Basically, there are two factors that are keeping the youngsters on the sidelines and off the stat sheet this fall.
2.The young receivers are still trying to grasp Tennessee's offensive system. Earlier reports that offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe might scale back the offense to accommodate them proved to be incorrect.
"We haven't cut back at all," receivers coach Trooper Taylor says. "Coach Cutcliffe is not going to do that. He's going to run his offense, and if they want to be a part of it, they've got to be able to execute."
Rogers, Taylor and Briscoe do not strike fear in the hearts of opposing defenders. However, they line up correctly, read the coverage quickly and run their routes precisely.
"That's the thing I've been most impressed with: We haven't had any missed assignments running the whole gamut," Taylor says. "That might slow some of the younger guys down but the older guys have been able to go out there and do all of it. Erik Ainge feels comfortable with those guys, and that's important. Getting those guys on the same page is big."
Despite the competition for playing time, Tennessee's veteran receivers are helping their young counterparts make progress. The veterans routinely offer advice, answer questions and set good examples.
"I think that's how tradition is built: It's passed along," Taylor said. "Something has to be done first in order for you to have it. When these young guys get to see the guys who are currently here doing it, that makes a big difference."
O'Neal is still learning the nuances of Tennessee's passing attack. Vinson is now splitting time in the secondary. Jones is nursing a sore hamstring and Paige is learning to block. All are making progress, however.
"They're still chipping away at it," Taylor notes. "I feel like they can help us. It's just a matter of time. Experience is something that can't be taught; it's got to be given. We're trying to get 'em there a little bit at a time until we feel like we can trust 'em. It's up to them to make sure that I can trust 'em."
Taylor already knows he can trust sophomore Austin Rogers, plus juniors Lucas Taylor and Josh Briscoe. That's why they'll play key roles in today's game at No. 4 Florida and that's why O'Neal, Vinson, Jones and Paige probably will not.
"They're trying to work their way into the mix," Taylor says of the rookies. "I tell them, 'You've got to earn it.' I'm not going to give it to them, and it looks like those older guys are not going to hand it to them, either."