Earlier this month, Tennessee landed a commitment from the transfer portal in former Clemson running back Lyn-J Dixon. The addition came as training camp was getting underway — and Volunteers coach Josh Heupel explained why he dove into the portal waters so late in the offseason.
The Vols needed another running back after announcing Len’Neth Whitehead would miss the entire 2022 season due to an offseason surgery. That announcement came July 31, just four days before Dixon committed, and Heupel said the plan is to ease him in to build running back depth.
“With Len’Neth being out for the season because of the injury, I felt like it was important that we continue to try to look for and add another body in that room if there was one available that fit what we were going to need,” Heupel said. “Since he’s gotten in, he’s in a race to understand and learn what we’re doing as fast as we possibly can. He’s been able to flash in some of our situational stuff that we’ve done.
“For him to go out and operate and function in everything that we’re doing right now, he’s probably not at that point. But I’ve been really pleased with the effort that he’s put into it. He’s competed in a really good way out there on the practice field and in the stadium. Looking forward to his progression on the back half of training camp as we push [toward] game week.”
Dixon played the last at Clemson from 2017-21 and initially entered the portal three games into the 2021 season. He then arrived at West Virginia in November before heading back into the portal in June. But his commitment to Tennessee didn’t have much to do with prior relationships, Heupel said.
As it turns out, he learned about the program as a recruit, so it’s not completely uncharted territory.
“He had a lot of familiarity with Tennessee just [from] his recruitment,” Heupel said. “He has some experience playing at this level. His skill set, athletic ability, change of direction, explosive, long, speed, all those things are things that we need inside of that room. For those reasons, it felt like he was the right fit to bring in.”
During his career at Clemson, Dixon ran for 1,420 yards and 13 touchdowns in 41 games for Dabo Swinney’s group. Without Whitehead, who totaled 207 yards and two touchdowns for Tennessee in 2022, Dixon has a chance to provide some depth behind last year’s leading rusher, Jabari Small, for Tennessee this season.