After putting his team through three hours of situational scrimmaging Saturday at Neyland Stadium, Vol head coach Lane Kiffin pronounced his rookies prepared to line up and play.
"I think we have them as ready as possible," he said. "Understand: That doesn't mean they'll be perfect. They're still freshmen."
Kiffin's philosophy is simple: To prepare the rookies for everything they might face in a game, you have to throw everything at them in practice. Mission accomplished.
"To put them in all of situations we have takes a lot of time, and it's for a reason," Kiffin said. "Hopefully, they continued to make less mistakes as the preseason went along, which I think we saw. I think you saw them making a number of plays today again."
With Game 1 just seven days away, some of the rookies are feeling a little nervous. Nu'keese Richardson, scheduled to be the No. 1 punt return man, fumbled a punt for the second Saturday in a row.
"Hopefully, we got some of it out," Kiffin said of the freshman jitters. "But we know a week from today there's going to be 100,000 people in here. We can't simulate that but we've done everything we can up to this point."
Richardson heads into Game Week listed as a first-team receiver on the depth chart. He also lines up as a shotgun quarterback from time to time. Fellow freshman David Oku, who is competing for snaps at tailback, also lines up as a wideout from time to time. Asking freshmen to play multiple positions obviously shows a lot of confidence in them but Kiffin says the workload isn't as heavy as it might appear.
"We tried to give them a lot initially, and now we've tried to really be specific ... more of what they would do in the first couple of games," he said. "We won't be doing any more experiments. We'll be practicing stuff we think they'll be doing the first couple of games."
The fact Oku and Richardson can line up in multiple positions is a critical element of the Vol offense.
"As we evaluate the running backs, having guys who can do multiple things is extremely important to us," Kiffin said. "Maybe it's not as big a deal to other people because they're more generic in what they do with them ... they sit back there behind the quarterback all day.
"We ask our guys to do a lot of different stuff, as you saw today. They're lining up all over the place. It's very valuable to us for guys to be (multi-purpose) threats, like both of those guys are.
"And both of those guys will be starting returners - Richardson on punts, Oku on kickoffs - so that's very significant for them."
The nine freshmen listed either first or second team are as follows:
- Nu'keese Richardson, No. 1 wide receiver and No. 1 punt returner
- David Oku, No. 1 kickoff returner
- Bryce Brown, co-No. 1 at tailback with Montario Hardesty
- Montori Hughes, co-No. 1 at nose tackle with Dan Williams
- Mike Edwards, co-No. 1 at cornerback with Anthony Anderson
- Janzen Jackson, co-No. 1 at free safety with Dennis Rogan
- Marsalis Teague, No. 2 at wide receiver behind Quintin Hancock
- Greg King, No. 2 at strongside linebacker behind LaMarcus Thompson
- Darren Myles, co-No. 2 at strong safety with Prentiss Waggner behind Eric Berry