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Jerry Mack explains where Jaylen Wright’s game has grown

He could be in for a big year.

NCAA Football: Orange Bowl-Clemson at Tennessee Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee is known for flashy downfield passing, but Josh Heupel will tell you — his secret sauce is his rushing attack. Those wide splits he uses serve a purpose, which is clearing out the middle of the field and allowing his running backs to get in space. Jabari Small has been a big beneficiary of Heupel’s system, but Jaylen Wright is the guy that could potentially be that gamebreaker type for the Volunteers.

While Small is more of a grinder type, Wright brings more explosiveness to the table. That’s evidenced by a look at the statsheet, where Wright averaged 6.0 yards per carry against Small’s 4.7. Wright ended up leading the team in rushing by over 100 yards, despite seeing 11 less carries than Small.

Wright’s development has been fun to watch, going from a speedster with a tendency to bounce, to a true do-it-all type of runner. He’s also seemed to put his fumbling issues behind him.

“A lot of good things,” Tennessee running backs coach Jerry Mack said of Jaylen Wright. “First of all, Jaylen Wright has grown tremendously as an inside-the-tackle runner. When he first got here, he was a guy that really wanted to bounce runs. A lot of that is probably what they asked him to do in high school, so what you see now is a guy who is a lot more attentive about going through the hole, pressing the double-team, things like that – just all those different things running through the smoke. That’s what we talked to a lot of J-Wright the last couple of years, and you’ve just seen the growth in his game a ton.”

Tennessee will obviously roll with a rotation of both Small and Wright, and likely some Dylan Sampson as well. But will we see Wright featured a little more going forward?

“It really just depends on the flow of the game,” Mack said last week. “One thing about running backs, if the guy has a hot hand, you want keep him in. So that’s no different than what we’re trying to do.

“The guy that is really in the rhythm, I would be crazy to take him out while he’s on. But I do foresee that we’re gonna need all those guys as the season progresses.”

Wright, now a junior, ran for 875 yards in 2022, scoring ten times. With Hendon Hooker now gone, it’s going to be interesting to see if the staff leans a little more on the ground game as Milton settles into the starting role once again.

Wright and Tennessee will kickoff the 2023 season on September 2nd against Virginia.