Predicting which true freshmen will compete for playing time in the fall is a process fraught with folly. Regardless of the talent level so many other peripheral issues come into play i.e. injuries, adjustments, academics, size, strength and team needs. With that qualifier firmly in place here is a list of the top five freshmen of influence at Tennessee for 2007.
(1) ERIC BERRY: Tennessee
needs a shutdown corner and Berry appears to be a natural although he played mostly quarterback and safety at Creekside High School. He'll likely get a chance for on-the-job training and should pay early dividends. Berry has enough strength and toughness to overcome inexperience and corner is one of the easier positions to play quickly because its primarily comprised of press coverage. Jabari Greer
made a similar transition as a freshman and never missed a beat. Berry has better ability and more size than Greer did.
(2) BRENT VINSON: With Robert Meachem
headed to the NFL Tennessee needs a go-to receiver that can stretch a defense, draw some double coverage and turn short passes into big plays. Vinson has the credentials to step into that role and a year at Hargrave Academy allowed him to develop his game, gain maturity and add much needed experience. (Vinson only played two years of high school football.) He's not as big or strong as Meachem but he is just fast and athletic. His personality should allow him to thrive on the big stage. However Vinson is playing at a different level than he has before and receivers in UT's offense have to make a lot of adjustments on the fly.
(3) DARRIS SAWTELLE: The last true freshman to start in the offensive line for UT was Michael Munoz
in 2000. Before that it was Cosey Coleman
in 1997. It's not likely to happen in 2007, but Sawtelle is a prospect with the maturity, talent and technique needed to crack the rotation. He's also athletic enough to help at guard or tackle. Plus his early arrival on campus and participation in spring practice will greatly enhance his chances. Jacques McClendon
made the jump last season without the benefit of spring practice and became a starter in the Outback Bowl. Sawtelle is not quite as strong as McClendon but he's very explosive off the snap and stays with his blocks like a man possessed. An outstanding drive blocker he only needs work on his pass protection skills to become a viable contender for playing time.
(4) CHRIS DONALD: Although Tennessee has three starters returning at linebacker, depth remains a concern and Donald is a solution. He's got the size and athleticism to play at any of the LB positions, as he did during his high school career at Huntingdon. However his future is as a Will LB where he can use his 4.5 speed off the edge and in coverage. He'll need to add strength to take on pulling guards but his quickness and acute instincts should help him compensate. Should also become a standout on special teams. Donald is more mature than former UT signee Daniel Brooks who never go on track on The Hill after an impressive high school stint at Jackson Central Merry.
(5) DONALD LANGLEY: There are higher rated D-line prospects in UT's signing class, but Langley is the only one that will have nine months in the program by the time the 2007 season gets underway. He also appears to be a solid tackle prospect with ideal size and excellent mobility. The Vols need immediate help on the interior and Langley is the best candidate to provide depth there. There's a chance Langley could be switched to the O-line down the road, but for now he will be ticketed as a run stopper on defense.
Five others that could make an early splash in UT's playing pool are Ben Martin, Gerald Jones, Ahmad Paige, Lennon Creer and Art Evans.