Photo via Tennessee Athletics
Like any other profession, coaches acknowledge and attempt to learn from their mistakes every year. But coaches don’t often confess those mistakes to the media.
Tennessee runnings back coach Jerry Mack admitted he and Tennessee coaches made a mistake last fall camp. Sophomore running back Jaylen Wright was banged up last fall practice. While he participated in drills, Tennessee held him out of full contact work.
Wright was ready for the season opener but the lack of contact came back to bite him. The then-sophomore had fumble problems early in the season.
Wright is fully healthy this fall camp but senior Jabari Small has been limited with injuries. However, Mack and Tennessee have made sure Small’s taken hits during fall camp.
“Jabari is a guy that had no reps, really, in the spring at all. He hadn’t played football, before this camp, since probably December and the bowl game,” Mack said. “Jabari needed to get hit. You saw last year what happened to Jaylen Wright when he didn’t practice all of camp and he had those fumbling issues early in the season. We learned from our mistakes as coaches and make sure that now Jabari is going to get in there, he’s taking some inside drill which normally he doesn’t take. He needs to get that thump, feel those pads on pads and be able to finish plays and he has wanted that.
“He saw what happened to Jaylen last year and he didn’t want that to happen to him last year. He has embraced the contact more than anything else.”
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While Small and Wright have both proven they are quality SEC running backs, Tennessee’s coaches have raved about Wright’s development over the last offseason. The North Carolina native is no longer a speed only back. He can effectively run between the tackles and hold his own in pass protection.
But what about the fumbles. Have those issues persisted this fall camp?
“He really locked in probably about midseason last year,” Mack said of Wright. “I think after he locked in, maybe after the LSU game, I don’t think he had any more ball security issues— at least with the ball coming out. I do think a lot of that was not being able to get hit during the month of August and not understanding that impact and where those bodies are going to come from all the time. … I think a lot of that was those issues. I honestly haven’t seen a fumble, not even in practice to be honest with you, at all since probably mid season of last year.”
Wright did fumble in Tennessee’s loss at Georgia but did effectively cut down on the fumbles the back half of the season. With Wright, Small and Dylan Sampson back, Tennessee’s running back room will be one of the SEC’s best.