Ever since the spring, the Tennessee backfield picture has been fairly clear, despite the total lack of experience on the roster. Eric Gray and Ty Chandler left the program during the offseason, leaving the Vols with virtually no experience at running back. The obvious answer was Jabari Small, and JUCO product Tiyon Evans quickly emerged as the second option.
On Monday, Tennessee running backs coach Jerry Mack confirmed that thinking.
“I do think those two guys (Small and Evans) have separated themselves as being a little bit more at the top of the depth chart, obviously, than more at the bottom,” Mack said after practice. “Both of those guys, I mean, they could go in the game right now as 1A and 1B and participate.
Small handled just 26 carries as a true freshman last season. He’s now expected to lead the Tennessee backfield. Josh Heupel wants a full stable of backs, however, as most coaches do in this day and age. According to Mack, Small and Evans have similar styles, although they do have subtle differences to their game.
“They both are very similar skill sets, but Jabari obviously is a little bit smaller, little bit shiftier, has got some experience playing the receiver position, so he can do a lot of different things as far as his repertoire,” Mack continued. “But yet, at the same time, you’ve got Tiyon that has just so much power, I said before, running between the tackles. Those guys have really been a good 1-2 punch throughout fall camp.”
Evans was the top JUCO running back in last year’s cycle — the third ranked JUCO prospect overall in the country, per 247Sports. The 5-11, 220 pound back was dinged up at the end of spring, so we didn’t get to see much of him in action during the Orange and White Game. That should change quickly this fall though, as the staff plans on handing Evans and Small each a key to the car.
Who emerges behind them? It sure seems like this staff likes true freshman Jaylen Wright, who will brings some serious speed to the table. Wildcards like Dee Beckwith and Len’Neth Whitehead are also options, along with Tee Hodge.
The running back picture, at least up top, seems pretty clear. We know Heupel likes to stay balanced, so expect both Evans and Small to be huge parts of this offense in 2021.