Mack Readies Recharged Vol Running Backs As Camp Rolls Into Week 3

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Back on the grass of Haslam Field after the second scrimmage of preseason camp and an off day, the Tennessee Volunteers kicked off their third week of practices Tuesday morning.

Running backs coach Jerry Mack has been able to grow a lot with his group in his second year at Tennessee. The group has already had to battle through some adversity with a season-ending injury to Len'Neth Whitehead before fall camp started, but they have been building every day and Mack feels that each individual in the room has the capability to make an impact on the gridiron this season.

"The biggest thing is we're always trying to do a great job of making sure we monitor those guys during the course of the game," Mack said, meeting with the media on Tuesday afternoon. "If a guy gets the hot hand, obviously we would potentially want to stay with him. If a guy is going into a lull, we make sure we get into a rotation. I never really go into a game saying, 'hey, this guy's going to play 15, 20 snaps' or whatever it may be. It's more about how they progress throughout the course of the game. Now, we do enter the game saying, 'this guy's going to basically be the one, two, three, four,' however the depth chart hits that week depending on how they practice, obviously. But you never really know until you get into the full of the game."

With a lot of new in the room, there is a lot of value brought from returning starter Jabari Small, who ran for a team-high 796 yards and nine touchdowns last season on 141 carries. Small made his first collegiate start in the season opener and burst on the scene in a big way, going for 117 yards and a score in a win over Bowling Green. He grew a lot over the course of last season, making 11 starts, and in Year 2, Small is looking to impart the wisdom he gained over the course of the 2021 season to a group that holds the future of the program.

"They need someone to look up to and I know how important that is," Small said. "My freshman year, I had two older guys and that was very monumental for me. I take it seriously because when I'm gone, they're still going to be here. Tennessee is going to be here for a long time after I'm gone, so I have to push the guys that are younger than me and try to make them better."

For Small, a lot of the offseason was spent building his strength up to limit some of the injuries that hindered his season last year. With a proper strength program and an emphasis on fueling himself for muscle growth, Small is built to last the entire season this year.

"It was more so a lot of extra work and changing my diet," Small continued. "I ate a lot of protein and a lot of steak. I came in even when I was not asked to put in extra work up top with my shoulder. It was a lot of extra work, but the strength and conditioning staff did a great job and put a big focus on me this offseason, and it's paid off."

Another key returner for the offense is tight end Princeton Fant, who enters his sixth season with the program after electing to return for his extra year of eligibility brought on by the pandemic. With so many years of experience, Fant has been able to manage the grind of fall camp while ensuring there is an enjoyment for the game he loves.

"There's a lot of adversity coming in with camp. Lot of hard work, staying home and keeping guys first. That's the whole thing that keeps me going through all these camps. Just understanding what's going on both on the field and off the field, in the classroom and in the tight end room. Just teaching the younger guys and bringing the younger guys along, that's really a big goal for us."

"It's definitely fun, it's a lot of fun," Fant said. "Camp is camp, but every day we go out there and compete with the guys and go out there and have fun with the game. That's what it's all about. Going out there and competition and having fun and flying around."

Tennessee returns to the practice field again on Wednesday morning. All practices are closed to the public.

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