Youth movement

Derek Dooley isn't sacrificing the present to build a brighter future but Tennessee's head coach may give his freshmen bigger roles now that the Vols have a 2-4 record and an open date during which to regroup.

"It'll be good for us to develop a lot of our younger guys," Dooley said of the bye week. "We're going to keep growing some guys - the young runner, the young receivers, the young quarterback.

"We've got some linebackers - (John) Propst and (Raiques) Crump and Dontavis Sapp. We've got some guys that have got something to 'em, so we'll try to take advantage of that with those cats."

As Big Orange fans are aware, the youth movement began early in Tennessee's offensive line. Ja'Wuan James has started every game at right tackle and fellow rookie James Stone has started the past three at left guard. Another freshman, Zach Fulton, is seeing extensive playing time at right guard.

Freshman receiver Justin Hunter had a breakout game Saturday at Georgia, catching four passes for 110 yards and a touchdown. He is averaging a whopping 23.6 yards on 10 catches to date.

"I think Justin's got some special ability," Dooley said. "If he continues to work and progress and grow physically, I think he can be a special player. He's long, he's athletic, he's got great ball skills and we're starting to feed it to him a little more. We need to keep doing it.

"But he's still a freshman, so he struggles to line up and run the routes. He's not zeroed in. As he develops confidence in what he's doing and how to react to what they're doing, he's going to get better and better."

Fellow freshman Da' Rick Rogers has four catches so far and is due a beefier role.

Freshman tailback Rajion Neal managed just 3 rushing yards on two attempts vs. Georgia but had a 58-yard catch/run and finished with 70 yards on three receptions. Neal also returned a kickoff 15 yards.

No. 1 quarterback Matt Simms is especially impressed with Hunter and Neal, noting that "The sky's the limit for them."

Tyler Bray, seeing his first action since the opener vs. UT Martin, completed 8 of 12 passes for 81 yards and directed a 77-yard drive that ended on Georgia's 3-yard line.

"Tyler Bray made some nice throws," Dooley said. "He looked good out there, looked calm."

Asked if Bray's role may expand, the head man replied: "I don't know. We'll see. He certainly showed some signs that we need to look at."

Dooley made clear that he didn't pull Simms because of poor play, adding: "Nothing was happening, so we had to go do something else."

It should be noted that Bray's action came at mop-up time, with Georgia leading 41-14 and playing soft coverage using some reserve defenders. Dooley conceded that it was "a different situation" than Simms faced earlier in the game.

Defensively, freshman ends Jacques Smith and Corey Miller are seeing significant action on the line. Miller even got a start at tackle in Game 2 vs. Oregon.

And, as Dooley noted earlier, three freshman linebackers appear to be making a push. Propst had six stops, including a tackle for loss, vs. Georgia. Crump added three stops and forced a fumble. Sapp also saw meaningful snaps vs. the Dawgs.

When asked about the extensive use of the frosh 'backers in the Georgia game, Dooley replied: "I was a little disappointed with how we were competing, especially how we came out in the second half. I'd rather go lose with somebody competing, and we didn't compete the way we needed to."

Clearly, Tennessee's freshman class could be a lot more visible in the second half of the season. Certainly, Dooley was encouraged by the play of his rookies vs. Georgia.

"We had a lot of freshmen out there playing, and they did some good things, man," the coach said. "That last drive on offense we had seven true freshmen, and we went right down the field - three offensive linemen, a quarterback, two receivers and a runner.

"We had seven true freshmen and missed a fourth down (at the 3-yard line) to score."


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