Time to shine

Receivers Quintin Hancock and Slick Shelley didn't get much chance to show what they could do during Tennessee's regular season. Nor did offensive linemen Chris Scott and Vladimir Richard, defensive linemen Victor Thomas and Chase Nelson or linebacker Dorian Davis.

All will get ample opportunity to show their stuff over the next three weeks, however, as the Vols get ready for their Jan. 1 Outback Bowl meeting with Penn State.

In addition to preparing the key contributors for postseason play, head coach Phillip Fulmer uses bowl drills to take a long look at some non-contributors who could play major roles next year. Thus, the next few weeks are crucial to many of the young players who form the cornerstone of UT's future.

"It's going to help a lot," Fulmer said. "It's almost like having 16 spring practice days for those guys. They'll get a lot of fundamental work and a lot of individualized attention. Anybody that's coming back is counted as a young guy, so we're going to get some good work with them."

Quarterback Erik Ainge says the young and the unsung can make great strides if they'll bear down these next few weeks.

"Every time you come out here, you get better at something," he said. "That's the attitude we take: You get better or you get worse. We're out here every day trying to get better, trying to get the young guys better for next season and trying to get everybody ready for this bowl game."

Receiver Robert Meachem says Tennessee's unproven players need to step up at several key positions ... and the sooner, the better.

"These extra practices are going to help a whole lot, especially the younger guys," he said. "They get a chance to show the coaches what they can do. It's just like a spring practice all over again.

"It should help young guys jump in at spots where we need 'em. The offensive line, we're going to need some more help. The other side of receiver, we're going to need a lot more help. That's what we need ... everybody competing."

Senior offensive tackle Arron Sears says young Vols can lay a foundation the next three weeks that could pay huge dividends next fall.

"This is like a new beginning for those guys, like another spring," he said. "They'll get their reps, and it'll get 'em a whole lot better before next spring."

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