Tennessee finished No. 116 in the nation in total rushing yards in 2011, coming in at just over 90 yards per game. That included two games -- Florida and Georgia -- in which the Vols finished with negative yardage on the ground.
That's unthinkable territory for a program that has prided itself on the ground game for the past two decades and produced recent NFL backs Arian Foster, Jamal Lews and Travis Henry.
Despite the returning talent at QB and WR, fixing the run game has been the No. 1 thing on coach Derek Dooley's mind over the offseason and into fall camp. Several personnel move were made to improve upon last season's disaster. Here's a look at three major overhauls the Vols made to their running game that they hope will pay off in 2012:
1. OL shuffle
No RB in the nation can succeed without at least some space to operate. There wasn't much room to be found in 2011. That's why, despite returning every starter, there are some new faces and new positions on the OL. It starts with the 330-pound new LT Antonio Richardson. Known as "Tiny," Richardson was slowed by a sore shoulder as a freshman in 2011, but the LT spot is his to lose in 2012. Former LT Dallas Thomas will slide down to LG, and James Stone is back working as the starting C after losing that spot halfway through 2011.
2. Three-headed RB attack
Junior Rajion Neal is the favorite to win the starting RB job, but Dooley said the Vols have three backs, Neal, Devrin Young and Marlin Lane, who will help in 2012. Neal has seen time at both WR and RB in his career, but he's settled in at RB in 2012. Young is a small (5-7), but explosive playmaker who showed burst as a punt returner in 2011. Lane is the team's leading returning rusher, coming off 75 carries for 280 yards in 2011. The Vols hope three backs are better than one. Departed RB Tauren Poole took a vast majority of the carries in 2011, but produced less than four yards per attempt.
3. Coaching changes
Sam Pittman takes over for former OL coach Harry Hiestand, and the Vols hired Jay Graham, formerly at South Carolina to lead the RBs. There was technically no RBs coach in 2011, Dooley opted to have a graduate assistant oversee that unit. Graham had a great track record with the Gamecocks. He helped develop All-America candidate Marcus Lattimore and had several backups ready when he went down with a torn ACL in the middle of the season. Graham also knows a thing or two about being a RB for the Vols. He is sixth on the school's all-time rushing list with the 2,609 yards he piled up between 1993-96.
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