Frosh make a move

Like the movement of the hour hand on a clock, the movement of some freshmen on Tennessee's offensive depth chart this fall has been so gradual as to be almost imperceptible.

As the Vols prepare for Game 10 Saturday against visiting Arkansas, however, three rookies rank among the team's top offensive weapons – tailback Lennon Creer, wide receiver Gerald Jones and wide receiver Denarius Moore.

With LaMarcus Coker no longer in the program, Creer is solidly entrenched as the No. 3 tailback behind Arian Foster and Montario Hardesty. The talented Texan rushed for 109 yards on just seven carries last weekend vs. Louisiana-Lafayette, including an eye-popping 30-yard touchdown burst.

"I thought Lennon really played fast," offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe said. He's been banged up (knee injury) and he certainly looked healthy. I thought he ran with intensity. He really tries to finish runs, which is encouraging to see. The big thing that showed up was that his speed is back."

Pass protection is a big deal for Tennessee tailbacks, especially freshmen trying to earn playing time. Creer is still developing that skill.

"He's done all right," Cutcliffe said. "He hasn't been in that situation a lot in a game yet but, knowledge-wise, he's getting closer all the time. He's certainly far enough along to do our play-action game and our base first- and second-down pass game."

Asked if he's comfortable with Creer's pass-protection skills, Cutcliffe hedged.

"You're never 100 percent comfortable with a young guy," the Vol aide said. "There are sophomores and juniors I'm not 100 percent comfortable with in the drop-back pass game. We do an awful lot there. That's not something that's going to be learned easily. It takes a little while."

Jones accounted for 30 all-purpose yards last weekend, catching two passes for 10 yards and rushing twice as a direct-snap tailback for 20 yards and his first career touchdown. Moore, who returned kickoffs earlier this fall, caught four passes for 36 yards on Saturday. Both wideouts exhibit big-play potential.

"I'm excited about those guys' abilities," Cutcliffe said. "I like their competitiveness. They're fun players to be around. They're natural players. It's exciting to see them playing a little bit more. Hopefully, they'll bring something to the table that'll be a little special."

Freshmen generally play mop-up roles at Tennessee but Creer, Jones and Moore are ahead of the curve. All three are earning the trust of the coaches, and all three could see meaningful action this Saturday against the Razorbacks.

"I think we've got a lot of guys who have reached a point where they can play and compete in big ball games," Cutcliffe said. "This late in the season they're not really rookies. These guys have played enough to understand the importance of execution. That's what it boils down to.

"You're not going to put anybody in there you have a fear of what they're going to do. We expect those guys to go out there and execute. If they're doing that consistently in practice they'll have the opportunity to play."

Senior quarterback Erik Ainge is very pleased with the two rookie receivers, even though both still have some things to learn about Tennessee's offensive scheme.

"I think they're good football players," Ainge said. "Are they there yet? No, not by any stretch of the imagination. But Gerald Jones, Denarius and all of those guys could be really special guys. They're making plays because that's what they do. They're working hard."

Moore and Jones showed up on Monday to watch film with Ainge and veteran wideouts Lucas Taylor, Josh Briscoe, Austin Rogers and Quintin Hancock. It was the first time all season the two freshmen had bothered to do so.

Smiling softly, Ainge explained: "Once you get to do it (play) on Saturday a little bit, it's only natural to want to lift weights harder, watch more film, do everything right to get yourself ready to play."

Another first-year receiver who may be ready to move into a more prominent role is junior college transfer Kenny O'Neal. He had a 49-yard touchdown grab last weekend and might be the team's fastest player, but he has been a bit slow to master his assignments.

"It's just a matter of Kenny learning the offense," head coach Phillip Fulmer said this week. "It's not that simple because there are six or seven things the defense may do on the snap of the ball, and you've got to make an instantaneous decision.

"That's been a little slow to come around in adjusting to that. But we definitely would like to get him in the ball game."

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