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Pruitt looking for more backfield depth, provides updates on freshman running backs

NCAA Football: Tennessee Volunteers Practice Calvin Mattheis-USA TODAY Sports

A frustrating first season in Knoxville for Len’Neth Whitehead will likely end without him seeing a single rep of game action. The four-star athlete had been working back from an injury sustained in his senior season of high school with hopes of making an impact later in the year.

However, that progress was halted last week. Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt announced that Whitehead hurt his shoulder last week and will likely need surgery, which would end his season.

Whitehead signed as an athlete in Tennessee’s 2020 class. The former top 100 overall prospect was expected to land at linebacker, but the Volunteers opted to start him at running back. Whitehead would have potentially had an immediate role as a bigger, more physical back, but injuries have kept him from doing so.

Tennessee has basically rolled with Eric Gray and Ty Chandler at the position, outside of a few reps from freshman Jabari Small. Pruitt noted the need for more depth at running back today during his press conference.

He mentioned Dee Beckwith, who also signed with Tennessee as an athlete. The 6-5, 220 pound freshman was thought of as a wide receiver or tight end, but the coaching staff quickly moved him to running back as the numbers at the position dwindled early on. Beckwith was hurt during the first game week, and we have yet to see him in the picture since.

Finally, another freshman, Tee Hodge could also be entering the fray. Pruitt noted that Hodge has been “getting his legs back under him” and showed a little more burst in practice last week.

Midway through the season, Eric Gray and Ty Chandler are averaging 4.5 and 4.4 yards per carry. The offensive line has been the bigger issue to this point, failing to consistently win the line of scrimmage or in pass protection. Clearly though, Pruitt is looking to hand out more reps at running back, so that’s something to watch in the final five games.