A bunch of rookies saw meaningful action in Saturday's first full-scale scrimmage of the preseason, and many of them are likely to see more action Sept. 5 when the Vols open the 2009 season against Western Kentucky.
“From Day 1 I’ve talked about in recruiting that our freshmen will get their shot to play and play early," Kiffin said during today's annual preseason Media Day. "That’s not a recruiting ploy. That’s a chance to find out who our championship players are – which guys can be good."
Tennessee's offense was horrendous in 2008, so the coaching staff is especially interested in identifying freshmen who might provide a big-play dimension on that side of the ball. That's why Bryce Brown got 10 carries on Saturday and fellow freshman tailback David Oku got nine. That's why rookie receivers Nu'Keese Richardson, Marsalis Teague and Zach Rogers were catching passes.
"As you saw on offense Saturday, a lot of skill-position freshmen touched the ball a lot," Kiffin said, adding that it was "really interesting to see the film and watch how they kind of showed up. We kept seeing that almost every other play a freshman was involved."
Several rookies also saw meaningful action on defense during Saturday's scrimmage - Montori Hughes and Arthur Jeffery at tackle; Jerod Askew, Robert Nelson, Greg King and Nigel Mitchell-Thornton at linebacker; Janzen Jackson and Darren Myles at safety, Eric Gordon, Mike Edwards and Nyshier Oliver at cornerback.
"Offensively, you’d see them play a little more, but some defensive guys played well, especially in the secondary," Kiffin said. "Our freshmen have already made an impact early, and it’s creating competition.
"It’s making our veterans understand that these guys are here to take their spots. We’re a team, but these (young) guys are here to take their (veterans') spots, so they better strap it up.”
Although a few of Tennessee's freshmen may sit out the '09 season as redshirts, Kiffin has no desire to discuss that issue at this time.
The head man noted that a player who knows he's being redshirted doesn't give the same effort as a player who is competing for an active role. In addition, coaches tend to spend less time developing players who aren't being counted upon for immediate contributions. So, when injuries at a position force a redshirted player to be activated, "suddenly you've got to start coaching him up," Kiffin said.
That's why the head man adheres to one hard and fast rule:
"We don't talk about redshirting."
POSITION SWITCHES: Kiffin announced two position changes involving first-year Vols. Junior college transfer Rae Sykes has moved from defensive end to defensive tackle. Freshman Greg King has switched from middle linebacker to strongside linebacker.
INJURY UPDATE: Cornerback Art Evans suffered a minor knee injury during Saturday's scrimmage but is expected back soon.... Fullback Kevin Cooper missed the scrimmage with a mild concussion.... Defensive tackle Wes Brown will be limited to one workout per day when the Vols hold two-a-day workouts on Monday, Wednesday and Friday this week.... Linebacker Rico McCoy (knee) and cornerback Brent Vinson (hamstring) could be back on the practice field by the weekend.