Because the Big Orange roster is not as depleted as it was a year ago, rookies are not likely to be quite so prominent in 2011 as they were in 2010. Still, freshmen project to have considerable impact this fall as Tennessee continues trying to build some depth.
"I think we're going to need 'em at just about every position," head coach Derek Dooley said. "If not as a starter, as a role guy, a spell guy or a guy who can go out there and push the guy ahead of him to be better. It's hard to say that you're not going to need 'em in some capacity."
Asked which positions freshmen might contribute quickest, Dooley replied: "I don't know. It's too early to tell that."
Maybe not. Rookies Marlin Lane and Tom Smith should push for supremacy at tailback. Vincent Dallas or fellow freshman DeAnthony Arnett could wind up starting at slot receiver. Frosh Brendan Downs and Cameron Clear project to contribute at tight end. Guard Marcus Jackson and tackle Antonio Richardson are potential starters in the O-line. Freshmen Allan Carson and Trevarris Saulsberry will compete for playing time at defensive tackle, while classmate Jordan Williams challenges for snaps at end. A.J. Johnson and Christian Harris project to play significant roles at linebacker, as do Brian Randolph and Pat Martin at safety.
While Dooley is reluctant to discuss freshmen to watch, Vol teammates exhibit no such reservation. Bray, for instance, thinks the two frosh receivers may push for first-team status.
"Vincent Dallas and Arnett are two young guys, fast," Bray said. "They come out of their breaks well and will be good additions to our receiving corps.
Junior defensive back Prentiss Waggner believes several rookie DBs have a chance to contribute early.
"We knew the coaches were recruiting great guys," he said. "We basically had a feel for what those guys were going to be like. Then, when we saw them in person, we knew we were going to have to step up our games even more....
"I think they're going to be fun to watch. From Day One, Brian Randolph is a guy that impressed me real well. He came in in tremendous shape. It seemed like his first day in seven-on-seven he was getting his hand on balls. Another guy that impressed me is Byron Moore. He's real smooth in transitioning, and I think he's going to be a pretty good player for us."
Moore, who spent the 2009 season at Southern Cal, is one of three junior college transfers among Tennessee's newcomers. The others are defensive back Izauea Lanier and defensive tackle Maurice Couch. All three project to play key roles this fall.
"We'll see," Dooley said. "We obviously took 'em in the areas where we felt like we needed some immediate help - D-line and corner."
Brewer mentioned both junior college DBs, along with a couple of freshman DBs, as players he expects to make a splash this fall.
"Pat (Martin) especially," he said. "Justin Coleman is a great athlete, a great player we can use this year. A couple of the JUCO guys that came in look pretty good, so I think we'll be good on the DB side."
Senior Tauren Poole, a 1,000-yard rusher in 2010, concedes that he's expecting to be pushed by the freshman tailbacks. Still, he's willing to share some advice with them.
"Just be relentless," he said. "Go out every day and play every down like it's your last. That's the message I'm going to try to send in my last camp. Give your all. Coach Dooley expects your all every down, every play, and don't let up."
Although the Class of 2011 is unlikely to yield as many first-year starters as the Class of 2010 did, Dooley believes it adds considerable size, speed and strength to a roster in desperate need of those attributes.
"I felt that our signing class this year - from a height/weight/speed standpoint - we improved at every position," he said. "That doesn't mean they're going to be better players. But, over the course of your team, there's got to be some minimum height-weight-speed standards that you adhere to."