KNOXVILLE – The final members of the 2012 signing class arrived in Knoxville this week with the second term of summer school officially beginning.
Though running backs Davante Bouque and Quenshaun Watson were among the last signees to arrive, they will compete at a position where there could be early playing time available.
The UT backfield is crowded, but unproven. Watson, a 5-foot-9, 175-pound back out of Athens, Ga., has the speed to stand out among a group of seven scholarship running backs.
“Watson has the foot quickness and playing speed needed to turn average runs into long gainers,” wrote ESPN.com in a scouting report. “He has the size and athleticism for the running back position at the major level of competition.”
Watson showed that speed in his final semester of high school as a track athlete at Clarke Central High School. He was the top sprinter in Georgia, winning the state championship in the 100-meter sprint. His time of 10.54 seconds would have been a top-20 performance in the 2012 SEC outdoor track championships.
Bourque, meanwhile, will rely on a combination of size and athleticism to crack the rotation in the fall. Listed at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, the Louisiana native will be among the biggest backs on UT’s roster.
“Considering Bourque's impressive overall height and size, he really moves well and shows some sudden quickness and elusiveness from his running back position,” wrote ESPN.com.
Though projected by some schools and recruiting services at other positions, Bourque chose the Vols, in part, for a chance to play running back — the position he primarily played in high school.
Watson and Bourque will compete for touches with junior Rajion Neal and sophomores Devrin Young, Marlin Lane and Tom Smith. In addition, freshman Alden Hill enrolled in January, and Alton ‘Pig’ Howard, primarily a receiver in high school, could get a look at tailback in fall camp.
Tennessee coach Derek Dooley was pleased with the progress the running backs made in spring practice. Neal, Young and Lane were the top three performers and will go into fall camp as the early favorites for playing time.
"I think we have three guys who all have different qualities that can help us move the football, and you saw a little spurt of all of it (in the Orange and White Game),” Dooley said of Neal, Young and Lane in the spring. “They're all three good backs and we’ll be rolling a lot at that position.”
Still, with the Vols coming off their worst rushing season in the modern era and with only 654 career rushing yards returning, the position is ripe to be overtaken by any back that proves worthy in the fall.
New running backs coach Jay Graham helped lead South Carolina to an impressive average of 192 rushing yards per game in 2011. The former Vol running back said he has no expectation of how many backs or what type of player it will take to turn around the Vols’ rushing attack.
“We’ll use whatever it takes,” Graham said during spring practice. “If that means one guy or four guys, we’re going to put whatever it takes on the field to get the kind of effort and production we’re looking for.”