Lane was suspended for disciplinary reasons that haven’t been specified. The junior from Daytona Beach, Fla., was reinstated this summer, but he didn’t appear on the pre-training camp depth chart — an indication he had to regain the coaching staff’s trust.
He’s been trying to show how much he’s changed since his reinstatement.
“I live my life like it’s fourth-and-inches every day,” Lane said. “It can be taken from me at any second. I just go out there and give it my all.”
Lane worked out on the side with Tennessee’s injured players Sunday and Monday after spending much of the last week wearing a green non-contact jersey, but Volunteers coach Butch Jones said Sunday it’s just a precautionary measure and running backs coach Robert Gillespie reiterated that Monday night. The Volunteers need Lane and Rajion Neal to form a solid one-two punch in the backfield as they attempt to end a string of three straight losing seasons.
With a first-year starting quarterback throwing to an inexperienced receiving corps, Tennessee’s passing attack could struggle early in the season. Neal and Lane must be productive to take pressure off the passing game.
“In this league, you have to be able to run the ball,” Gillespie said. “The better teams are the ones that can control the clock and move the chains. We do understand that we have one of the best offensive lines in the country. We have to be able to produce behind them. I challenge those guys. I constantly ask, ‘Who’s going to be the 1,000-yard rusher? Who’s going to be the guy?’ “
Lane once seemed far from being that guy. While Lane sat out much of spring practice, Neal solidified his position atop the depth chart. Lane wasn’t reinstated to the team until June.
“It was very difficult,” Lane said. “The whole team became a family. Being separate from them is being without my family. I just learned to appreciate what I’ve got.”
But he didn’t stay far away during his suspension.
Lane said he talked just about every day during that period to Jones, Gillespie and even former associate athletic director David Blackburn, now the athletic director at Chattanooga.
“They just told me what you give is what you get, hold your head up high no matter what goes on,” Lane said.
He’s had a different attitude since his return.
“Marlin’s hungry,” Neal said. “He had the ball taken away from him. They truly say you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. He truly realized in a matter of a second, ball could have been over for him. He came here with a different mindset. He’s excited. He’s working. He’s honestly happy to be around the guys. That’s really what it’s all about.”
Lane and Neal now are eager to improve upon the effective combination they had formed last season. Neal ran for 708 yards and five touchdowns on 156 carries last fall. Lane rushed for 658 yards and two touchdowns on 120 attempts.
Neal rushed for 500 yards through the first half of the season before an ankle injury forced him to miss two games. Lane picked up the slack and ran for 473 yards through the second half of the season, exceeding the 100-yard mark against Missouri and Vanderbilt.
But instead of building on that late-season momentum, Lane ran into trouble this spring and had to earn his way to reinstatement.
Now that he’s learned his lesson, Lane’s ready to make amends.
“If you stare in the past, you’re always going to be brought down,” Lane said. “I’d rather keep moving forward.”
Orange Bits: Defensive coordinator John Jancek said he’s not counting on having linebacker Curt Maggitt or defensive end Jacques Smith for the Aug. 31 season opener against Austin Peay. Maggitt tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee last November, and Smith fractured his right thumb two weeks ago. “(Maggitt) is getting more and more reps, but (is) nowhere near being full speed,” Jancek said. ... Jancek also said he’s currently expecting freshman Cam Sutton to open the season as a first-team cornerback.
QB question remains
After the final day of fall camp the Vols’ still have their biggest question mark still hovering in the air. Who will be under center when the Tennessee offense takes the field against Austin Peay?
After an open competition for the spot for the past several weeks, a quarterback has still yet to be named.
“They’ve all been very attentive, very astute,” said offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian when asked on if he was comfortable with all of their options. “They have a firm grasp of what we’re doing offensively so yes.”
Heading into camp, it was assumed that junior Justin Worley and redshirt freshmen Nathan Peterman were the front runners to win the spot but Bajakian has been impressed with the group as a whole, including freshmen newcomers Josh Dobbs and Riley Ferguson.
“We always talk to our guys about preparing as if you’re the starter,” he said. “It’s not a big deal from their mentality and their standpoint. The thing you have to balance is the reps and how you break those up. But again we’ve been able to distribute reps relatively evenly anyway and even in the course of a game week prep we do get a lot of work for the first and second unit so it’s a decision again that Coach Jones will make in due time, when he’s ready to do so.”
While there may still not be a clear starter, Bajakian said that as a staff they’ve experienced position battles like this one and that he feels he could trot any one of the quarterback candidates out there on a Saturday.
Even in Jones and Co.’s last year at the University of Cincinnati they took a quarterback competition all the way to the week leading up to the first game, finally naming Munchie Legaux their week one starter against Pittsburgh.
Bajakian stood firm that the choice will be made in due time.
“Again, the decision on the depth chart is Coach Jones’,” said Bajakian. “I think he’s better suited to comment on that but we’ll play the guy that gives us the best chance of winning.”
And the play caller isn’t at all surprised that the battle has been so close. He applauded the blue collar effort from each of his quarterbacks.
“No, I expected the guys to compete and they are,” he said. “Every day they come to work with their lunch pail in hand and their hard hat on. They go about their business. They’re not looking over their shoulder with who’s behind them, where they should be or about how the reps are getting divided. They’ve been great in that regard. They just come to work and try to take advantage of their opportunities.”