Butch Jones leaves the door open for Marlin Lane's return
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]ennessee coach Butch Jones says that the door is still open for running back Marlin Lane to return to the team, but the ball is in his court.
Lane, who has missed the Vols’ last four practices, is currently suspended for “disciplinary reasons.”
“He has some criteria that have to be met,” Jones said of Lane’s return. “He’s meeting that criteria, but as of right now he’s still out and that’s all I’ll comment.”
Senior tailback Rajion Neal told reporters that Lane was back in Knoxville and, he believes, attending classes. Neal expects Lane to eventually be back on the field.
“I hope and pray that he’s back,” Neal said. “At the end of the day, that’s our teammate. That’s our brother. I’d known Lane outside of football before coming here. I hope everything’s all right and he can return and come on and help us get to where we’re trying to get to as a team.”
Lane, a junior from Daytona Beach, Fla., was the odds-on favorite to win the starting tailback job. He rushed 120 times for 658 yards and caught 29 passes for 228 yards last season.
His absence has left UT short on backfield depth, and Neal and redshirt freshman Alden Hill are carrying the bulk of the load. Tom Smith, a third-year sophomore with 13 career carries, is the Vols’ only other scholarship tailback.
Neal, the team’s leading returning rusher with 708 yards and five touchdowns last season, and Hill have made the most of their opportunity in the spotlight. Jones said that the 6-foot-2, 217-pound Hill has been one of the highlights this spring.
“I think Alden Hill has had a tremendous spring,” Jones said. “He continues to get better and better. He has the mentality that we expect and demand.”
Running backs coach Robert Gillespie, hired March 1 from West Virginia, is making the best of a difficult situation situation.
“We just have to not panic, not push the panic button,” Gillespie said. “That’s what we (as coaches) get paid to do. We help those kids gain confidence. We’ll build them up, and then we’ll go play with who we have.”
Two former tailbacks — Devrin Young and Alton “Pig” Howard — got carries last season, but have since been moved to wide receiver. Jones said he does not plan to move either of them back to running back.
Tennessee returns four starters on an offensive line that should be one one of the team’s strengths, but replacing the passing game production of Tyler Bray, Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter puts pressure on the razor thin running back corps.
“It’s going to be a maturation process in front of 100,000 people, 80,000 people,” Gillespie said. “They’re going to make some mistakes. Hopefully they make more plays than mistakes.”
Photo credit: Michael Patrick / Knoxville News-Sentinel