Aug. 29, 2009
Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin has spoken confidently since the spring about taking the field in 2009 with a cast of talented freshmen in starring roles.
One day after releasing his depth chart for Western Kentucky and following Saturday's final preseason practice, Kiffin reiterated that belief in the new kids wearing orange.
"I thought we signed a number of players who would have significant roles for us as freshmen," he said. "With injuries it's become more significant, especially at receiver, so there are a lot of guys in there. That's good; it's good for the competition. I think it shows that these guys have worked really hard.
"I think we still understand that doesn't mean they will be perfect. They're still freshmen. But to put them in all the (game) situations we have -- that takes a lot of time and energy to set up all that stuff and it's for a reason. We know a week from today there are going to be 100,000 people in here and we can't simulate that, but we've done everything we can up to this point."
Receivers Austin Rogers, Denarius Moore and Gerald Jones all have gone down with preseason injuries -- Rogers already is ruled out for the season with a knee injury. But that merely has opened the door a little wider for freshmen Nu'Keese Richardson and Marsalis Teague to make a more immediate impact.
"Coach Kiffin said he would give the freshmen an opportunity to come in and play right away," said Richardson, who also is listed as the first punt returner. "I believed every word of it and as you can see, all the freshmen are playing and doing very well."
Bryce Brown enters this week having worked his way into the shared No. 1 position with senior Montario Hardesty at tailback. But the Wichita, Kan., native said his first experience with Camp Kiffin was an eye-opener that produced great results.
"I told some of the guys that I think I've been hit more times in this camp than I have since I've been playing football, so it's been an adjustment.
"But it's just patience, having patience. Knowing what the coaches are doing and buying into it. The game is slowing down for me and that's a good feeling."
David Oku, who also has been solid at tailback and stands third on the depth chart at that position, definitely will see the field returning kickoffs alongside Dennis Rogan. Has the buildup to next Saturday increased the spotlight on the younger set?
"No pressure; no pressure at all," Oku said. "Coach Kiffin prepares you for that. If he doesn't have confidence in you, he wouldn't put you in the game. I guess for all of us freshmen, it shows the confidence that Coach Kiffin has in us. We've worked hard, and the freshmen coming in have earned the respect of the older guys."
Defensively, Janzen Jackson has turned heads in the secondary over the past couple of weeks. So much so that the Lake Charles, La., product is bracketed with Rogan at free safety.
"In preseason (scrimmage) three, he was phenomenal on defense and he was the best special teams player of the day," Kiffin said. "Right now, we have him on all four special teams and he started today on defense as well."
Jackson sounded a popular theme Saturday when he said he's glad camp is behind him and primed to get the season started.
"Going against the guys has been good, but I'm ready to see another color on the field."
Saturday's practice at Neyland Stadium was a best-against-the-rest format. The team scrimmaged but did not tackle during the nearly three-hour session.
"I thought there was a lot of good work today," Kiffin said. "Obviously, it's not an extremely physical day; it's a very mental day with a ton of situations. We got through every scenario that can possibly come up in a game and that was really good for our players. And there was a lot of conditioning involved out there as well."
The Vols host Western Kentucky next Saturday at 12:21 p.m. Eastern time on Vol Network radio and the new SEC TV Network.