KNOXVILLE—Eric Gray made big headlines when he spurned Michigan to sign with Tennessee, and based on the buzz building during fall camp the freshman running back may be ready to make bigger headlines in the near future.
Something like: “Gray scores touchdown at Neyland Stadium”
Gray concluded his prep career at Memphis’ Lausanne Collegiate School as the only player to win three Tennessee Mr. Football awards. He scored 138 career touchdowns — another state record.
It was considered to be a major coup when Gray decommitted from Michigan and pledged to the Vols. With the curtain largely closed during fall camp, several reports have stated Gray is turning heads. At last week’s scrimmage, he reportedly scored on a long run.
On Wednesday, one Twitter user wrote: “I’ve been hearing Eric Gray is a complete freak with comparisons to Alvin Kamara.”
Vols freshman quarterback Brian Maurer replied: “It’s true.”
Coach Jeremy Pruitt added to the praise, noting that Gray has the mentality of an upperclassman.
“When you watch him practice and go about his business, he gets it the first time,” Pruitt said. “He learns from other people’s mistakes. He’s got really good ball skills, good vision. He’s a good competitor.
“He jumps out there and is very mature when it comes to football playing abilities. We’re excited about him. I think he’s had a really good camp so far.”
Part of Gray’s maturity, running backs coach David Johnson said, is his willingness to perform extra work and to watch film. Gray missed spring drills with a shoulder injury, but that didn’t keep him down. Johnson said it was normal to see Gray in the film room at 8 p.m. going over protections.
By not participating in the spring, Gray missed valuable time learning the speed and physicality of the college level. It appears he has transitioned well during fall camp, but any confidence he builds against his teammates will be tested the first time he gets hit hard by an SEC linebacker.
“He understands what level he’s on,” Johnson said. “It’s going to take him some time. He’s a freshman so until he actually gets out there in a real game to understand the physicality of this league he’ll adjust to it. He’s been doing a good job of displaying that in practice.”
Pruitt and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney are proponents of running back by committee so even though Ty Chandler has established himself as the team’s top runner he is not likely to get a bulk of the carries.
Fellow returnees Tim Jordan, Carlin Fils-aime and Jeremy Banks got carries last season but none have flashed the explosiveness that Gray reportedly has during fall camp. It remains to be seen exactly how much Gray will be used in the early going, but if the buzz is true he’ll get plenty of opportunities when the curtain is finally lifted.
“Eric’s been doing a good job,” Johnson said. “He’s still a freshman. He has a lot to learn, but his work ethic is second to none. He comes in like a professional with meetings and everything, but he’s been doing a good job in camp.”