KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Tennessee isn't quite at full strength at the running back position as the Volunteers prepare to play a Mississippi defense that ranks among the nation's best.
Starting running back Jalen Hurd has been dealing with a shoulder injury and carried the ball just twice last week in a 45-10 victory over Chattanooga. Marlin Lane, the Volunteers' second-leading rusher, didn't play at all against Chattanooga because of an ankle injury. Senior reserve Devrin Young cracked his ribs in that game and is expected to miss two to three weeks.
Tennessee coach Butch Jones said Hurd and Lane are still expected to play against the third-ranked Rebels. Hurd was limited in practice last week with a shoulder injury, and Jones said the freshman got hurt again early in the Chattanooga game but would be "full go" for Saturday's matchup with Ole Miss (6-0, 3-0 SEC).
"Could he have gone back in the (Chattanooga) game?" Jones asked. "Possibly, but why risk further injury? It's a long season. We're going to need him down the stretch. It was an opportunity to get some other individuals some valuable repetitions."
One running back who benefited from that additional playing time was freshman Derrell Scott, who had nine carries for 42 yards in his Tennessee debut. Scott is Tennessee's new second-team tailback in this week's depth chart, with Lane moving to the third team. After rushing for a combined 1,192 yards over the 2012 and 2013 seasons, Lane has gained just 160 yards on 49 carries so far this year.
Scott is "very, very quick," Jones said. He's a "downhill runner, north and south, has the ability to make you miss, but good burst and acceleration. I thought he did some really good things for handling his first live game opportunities. But again, his pass protection, knowledge of the pass protection schemes, just the overall knowledge and volume of the offense is one of the things that he needs to continue to improve on."
Tennessee ranks last in the SEC in yards rushing per game (109.7) and yards per carry (3.0). The Vols (3-3, 0-2) will have a hard time boosting those totals Saturday against Ole Miss, which has allowed just 11.8 points per game. Stanford is the only Football Bowl Subdivision program giving up fewer points per game.
Ole Miss also ranks 21st nationally in run defense. The Rebels are yielding 113.3 yards rushing per game and 3.3 yards per carry.
In an attempt to boost its depth at running back, Tennessee has given freshman defensive back Evan Berry some practice reps on offense. Berry, a younger brother of Kansas City Chiefs defensive back and former Tennessee star Eric Berry, showed his ball-carrying ability against Chattanooga with a 68-yard kickoff return that set up a touchdown.
"He does have some unique skills to him, but it's really (about) putting him in a position where he can work off those skills and get better, so he'll split time in practice playing at safety and running back," Jones said.
Jones reiterated that he isn't currently planning any changes to Tennessee's offensive line, which has struggled to create running room and has allowed an SEC-high 23 sacks. Jones said he would continue to have competition on the line and "if somebody steps up and is playing at a higher consistency, then they'll play, but right know those five will be the five."
Tennessee continues to hope offensive tackle Jacob Gilliam could return later this season. Jones announced after the season opener that Gilliam had torn his anterior cruciate ligament, but the fifth-year senior hasn't undergone surgery yet and has resumed practicing with the team.
"I don't know when that opportunity will present itself, but I do believe he will play again at the University of Tennessee," Jones said. "I do believe that."