Patient Poole finally has shot to be Vols’ top RB

Tauren Poole seriously considered leaving Tennessee after a 2009
season that found him as low as fourth on the Volunteers’ running
back depth chart.

He had dazzled his teammates and fans during last season’s
spring and fall camps with his speed and knack for evading tackles.
As a sophomore he knew he didn’t have much of a chance at unseating
senior leader Montario Hardesty as the starter but was still
surprised to find himself behind freshmen Bryce Brown and David
Oku.

”I performed well in the offseason last year. Every time. It
was unfortunate that I didn’t get that shot, but it made me the
person that I am today,” Poole said.

Poole’s patience has paid off, and now the Toccoa, Ga., native
is poised to become a starter under new coach Derek Dooley.

His stats aren’t indicative of someone who’s a surefire starter.
He gained 86 yards on 22 carries as a freshman in 2008. In 2009, he
carried the ball 10 times for 85 yards, including a long run of 34
yards against a Western Kentucky team that would end the season
winless. He’s never scored a touchdown.

Former coach Lane Kiffin seemed determined to give Brown, the
top prospect in his only recruiting class at Tennessee, more shots
at playing last season, even though Poole showed more promise
during the offseason. Brown finished the season with 476 yards and
three touchdowns on 101 carries but opted to leave Tennessee after
Kiffin bolted for Southern California in January.

Oku is still in the mix, redshirt freshman Toney Williams is
back from last year’s season-ending knee injury and Dooley’s added
freshman Raijon Neal to the roster. Still, the Vols who face the
running backs daily at practice insist its Poole who deserves the
start.

”I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people this year,”
Tennessee linebacker Austin Johnson said. ”You can get the biggest
hit on him, and he can stay up. It’s unbelievable.”

Poole was plenty impressive during this year’s spring practices,
and led the Vols offense during the Orange and White spring game
with 101 all-purpose yards, 58 yards receiving on three catches and
50 yards rushing on 12 carries.

Dooley praised him in the spring for being consistently
productive during practice, and the coach has seen more of the same
during the Vols’ first week of fall camp.

”Incredible work ethic, incredible attitude, runs hard,
tremendous effort, great leader. He’s doing quite well,” Dooley
said.

And though Poole is blunt about feeling unfairly passed over
last season, he is one of the most team-oriented players in the
lineup.

When Brown first considered leaving Tennessee after Kiffin’s
departure in January, Poole tried to convince him otherwise. Later
in the spring he was given Tennessee’s 2010 Fourth Quarter Award,
acknowledging his positive attitude, discipline, toughness, effort
and dedication to the team.

Poole also knows he can’t waste the opportunity he’s been
waiting for patiently.

”I feel like I’ve got a lot to prove,” he said. ”Nothing is
guaranteed in this league, and I’ve learned that a lot over the
years that I’ve been here. I’m just ready to go. I’m really excited
about it.”

That attitude and the patience Poole has shown has in turn
inspired his teammates.

”A lot of people would just leave,” Oku said. ”He just sat
back there and said, ‘Just be patient, just believe in God.’ I take
my role really seriously because Tauren did the same thing last
year. You just follow behind Tauren, and you’ll be all right.”