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Tennessee Football Running Back Preview: It’s Ty Chandler and Tim Jordan — but then what?

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NCAA Football: Alabama at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

RUNNING BACK

Tennessee missed John Kelly last season. Kelly had more than 1,000 combined rushing and receiving yards with nine touchdowns in 2017. He averaged slightly more than six yards on his 226 touches, and Tennessee didn’t have anybody that consistent, with that many touches, in 2018.

The Tim Jordan/ Ty Chandler combination has potential, but it’s hard to get a solid read on how good either guy really is given how bad the offensive line was.

However, each guy’s style complements the other’s -- Jordan the thunder and Chandler the lightning -- and together they give Tennessee at least a more-than-just-competent duo, though individually each has his limitations.

Power T Tape here at Rocky Top Talk talked some about Jordan missing the designed holes with his runs last season, though that tendency can be coached and improved. But he runs aggressively and steps through would-be tacklers when they don’t get a square hit on him.

Chandler’s stature and style likely prevents him from being an every-down back, but his legitimate game-breaking type speed makes him the best play maker on the team. Despite having 10 fewer total touches than Jordan, Chandler led the team in touchdowns – four rushing and three receiving – and he had the highest per-touch average of any running back on the team.

I expect Jim Chaney to use less-traditional plays like screen passes and jet sweeps to keep Chandler consistently involved in the offensive attack. His size may keep him from running the ball between the tackles as much as Jordan does, but his versatility allows him to line up as a wide receiver or to create mismatches with linebackers by running routes out of the backfield.

The 2019 recruiting class added 4-star Eric Gray to the group. Gray was the No.1 ranked back in Tennessee and a three-time Tennessee Mr. Football award winner. Plus, he was a relatively late addition to the class after the Vols snagged him right out from under Jim Harbaugh and Michigan. That’s never a bad thing.

It appears that he’ll be a limited participant in spring practice after having shoulder surgery, but the importance of having him here as an early enrollee can’t really be overstated.

The running back depth chart is fairly wide open after Chandler and Jordan. Grad transfer Madre London is gone, and while Jeremy Banks showed flashes of promise at running back, he also had 3 fumbles in just 42 carries and spent some time playing line backer last year. If Gray is healthy and well-adjusted come August, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him get some significant carries.

Tennessee would love to see the kind of production from its running backs that Jim Chaney and Georgia got in 2017 and 2018. Georgia had two 1,000-yard rushers in each of those two years while Tennessee, for some reference, hasn’t had one back gain 1,000 yards in a season since Jalen Hurd in 2015.

Chaney has led more traditional, balanced offenses like he did at Georgia, and he’s been at the helm for more pass-happy offenses like Tennessee’s in 2012. Under Pruitt, the offense likely won’t look much different than it did last year stylistically, but a lot of what the running backs will or won’t accomplish depends on the development of the offensive line.