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Why the Tennessee offensive backfield this season could be better than it was last season

Tennessee RB John Kelly
COURTESY OF TENNESSEE ATHLETICS

There is a consensus that Tennessee’s offensive backfield will take a step back this season. Surely, it must be a rebuilding season for the Vols, right?

I’m not buying it.

Now, I understand why you would call me crazy to think Tennessee could be better at quarterback and running back this season with far less experience than they had a year ago. The Volunteers lost running back Jalen Hurd, who was on the verge of becoming Tennessee’s leading career rusher, as well as running back Alvin Kamara and quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who were selected in the third and fourth round of the NFL draft, respectively. Admittedly, that’s a lot to lose.

But the replacements could actually be better fits for Butch Jones’ offense. Bear with me.

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First, Hurd never was a fantastic fit for Jones’ offense. He was a strong, bullying runner but didn’t have the instincts or quickness to truly take advantage of Jones’ offensive scheme. The same can’t be said for Kamara. He seemed like a perfect fit. But Hurd (for whatever reason) always got the majority of the carries, which meant Kamara’s quickness, shiftiness and speed never were fully utilized.

John Kelly seems to have some Kamara-like ability. With Kelly as the No. 1 tailback, Tennessee could have a better fit at the position than they had with Hurd. And my money is on true freshman Ty Chandler to be the No. 2 guy; he also has enough shiftiness to make me think he will be a good fit. He’s a freshman, so there will be concerns, such as pass protection. But he’s already started to wow coaches and teammates in preseason camp.

Then, there’s quarterback. I’ve seen Dobbs and Quinten Dormady throw more passes than I can remember. It didn’t take many throws to figure out Dormady was the better passer. Dobbs’ long-distance running won’t be part of the offense, but the Vols can be more efficient with a better passer. And Dormady is a good-enough runner to keep defenses honest on the read option.

No one knows for sure how Dormady will respond as the starter. He could fall flat on his face. I doubt that. But if he does, Jarrett Guarantano is waiting in the wings with a great mix of athleticism. Guarantano has a great arm and is a good runner.

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Lastly, Tennessee’s offensive backfield will be led by its offensive line, which could be one of the best in the SEC. As long as the Vols don’t suffer injuries up front, as they did last season, that will be a team strength. There’s talent and experience on the offensive line, which is something Tennessee hasn’t had in quite some time.

So for those who want to automatically assume that Tennessee’s offense will take a step back, don’t. The losses are significant, but the replacements may well be what Jones has been looking for all along.

(You can follow Dave Hooker on Twitter @TheDaveHooker)

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