Tuesday, August 14, 2007

One Will Shoulder the Load

From left to right, runningbacks LaMarcus Coker, Arian Foster, and Montario Hardesty

There were many concerns for the Volunteer Nation headed into fall practice. Who is going to step up and be the guy at right tackle, which of the new receivers is going to separate himself from the rest and demand a starting spot? The only thing, it seemed, that wasn't a concern was whether or not there would be enough talent at the running back position.

LaMarcus Coker had just come off a year which saw him run for nearly 700 yards and scoring 5 touchdowns while not even starting most games, not playing at all in many of the early games, I would add, and averaging a healthy 6.4 yards per carry.

Montatio Hardesty would be one year removed from a severe knee injury that clearly hampered him in 2006, and fresher than ever.

And Arian Foster had been getting all kinds of praise throughout the Spring, gaining many hoorahs from the coaching staff and Phillip Fulmer in particular for his effort, his work ethic, and his determination to excel. Many speculated that the praise rained on Foster was intended to motivate the younger, and more prone to mishap, Coker. Speculation which looks all the more founded considering the situation Coker now finds himself in.

Just before Fall practice began Fulmer announced the indefinite suspension of LaMarcus Coker for a violation of team policy. Inside information has revealed that most likely a drug test discovered marijuana in his system. He has been ordered to rehab and his return to the team is conditional and the length of his absence indeterminable.

So the weight then falls on the two aforementioned backs and true Freshmen to try and make up for the loss of Coker. No small task to say the least. But I am of the opinion that the third running back is going to see very few carries by the time it is all said and done for one key reason: Arian Foster is perfectly poised to have a break-out year.

Foster is the prototypical NFL rusher at 6'1" and 225 lb.s and he has proven that he can be durable.

After taking over the starting position in 2005 for the injured Gerald Riggs, Foster proceeded to run for nearly 150 yards each of the last five games and looked like the next great thing at running back at the University of Tennessee.

He was a preseason second-team All-SEC pick coming into 2006 but he injured his ankle in the second game of the year against Air Force and was plagued by the injury for several weeks afterward. He finally regained his form in the Outback Bowl vs. Penn State only to fumble on a key drive at the opponents 12-yard line in a 10-10 tie. The Nittany Lion's Tony Davis recovered the fumble and returned it 88 yards for a touchdown. Penn State won the game 20-10.

After the game Foster said "I feel like I let my team, the coaching staff, and everybody that came on this trip down. I put it on my shoulders. It's going to be a chip on my shoulder for next year." Exactly the reaction you would want from a player with Foster's up-side and he is staying true to his word.

Instead of hanging his head Foster has used the game as motivation and is more determined than ever to play at a superstar level in 2007. He has a picture of the ill-fated fumble that he keeps in his locker and looks at each time he leaves for practice for motivation.

"I don't remember working this hard in the off-season." Foster has said. "I worked myself to death this season. Last year was tough. I'm over that. That's the past, and I'm just ready to kick it into gear and go to California."

One of the factors that has me convinced Foster is back to his 2005 form and is going to be a featured back is that, despite Coker playing extremely well last year and despite his big-play potential, he couldn’t beat out Foster in the spring. Foster cemented himself first on the depth chart with an impressive showing in the Spring game when he rushed for 63 yards on eight tries.

“This is why he’s No. 1,” Cutcliffe said. “He runs the football well. He breaks tackles. He’s got enough moves to make you miss.

“He’s a heckuva pass protector and a heckuva receiver. That’s what you are looking for in an every-down back.”

Don't be surprised to see this year's Vol team resemble teams of old when they would hand the ball off almost every play, demonstratively driving down the field in a dominant fashion. Foster is the perfect fit for David Cutcliffe's offense and he will be a star in the 2007 season.

On an interesting note, Arian Foster did not give himself any credit whatsoever for the 63 yard performance in the Spring game. So was it his offensive line he credited? Was it the lead blocking of the H-backs? None of the above. It was all Spencer Douglas according to Foster.

"I'm Spencer Douglas. There ain't no Arian here. I changed my name about two weeks ago. I just changed it.” It seems he has adopted an alter-ego akin to Clinton Portis' noted role-playing.

When asked after the spring game where he thought the offense was right now, Douglas replied “They're probably in the locker room because we just had a spring game.”

A Tribute to Arian Foster

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