Junior running back John Kelly will get the lion’s share of carries for Tennessee for this first time in his career.
After spending most of his first two seasons behind Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara, Kelly made his first career start against Tennessee Tech last season and recorded a career-best 104 yards and a touchdown on just seven attempts.
With Hurd transferring and Kamara to the pros, the Vols need Kelly to have a big year.
Kelly rushed for 630 yards last season. He averaged 6.3 yards per carry overall and at least 5.6 yards per carry in four of the five games in which he had double-digit rushing attempts.
Kelly (5 feet 9, 205 pounds), a former three-star prospect from the Detroit area, is a confident player who is becoming more of a leader in his third season.
“He’s coaching the younger players,” Vols coach Butch Jones told reporters during spring ball. “It gets back to details, accountability and toughness. John has done a really good job of accountability not only to himself but his teammates around him. His voice is well-respected.”
Kelly will be one of the most important players on the Vols’ roster as the feature back on an offense that focuses heavily on its rushing attack. There will be added pressure because the Vols have less of a platoon than in recent years.
While Hurd did get the majority of reps during his first three seasons, Kamara provided a strong presence that changed the pace of the offense in the past two seasons. In addition, quarterback Josh Dobbs was a rushing threat.
Former four-star prospect Carlin Fils-aime could become a breakout performer behind Kelly, but he has just 14 career carries. And while true freshman Ty Chandler arrives with a lot of hype, he obviously has zero college experience.
Kelly also will be asked to take pressure off the starting quarterback – no matter who it is. Quinten Dormady has minimal experience and Jarrett Guarantano never has played a down of college football. The focus will be on Kelly to carry the offense and lead the Vols as the primary back in 2017.
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