The future is now

The Tennessee Vols aren't just getting ready for the Outback Bowl these days; they're getting ready for 2008, as well.

The nucleus of Tennessee's future is in its freshman class. Oh, sure, there are some key players who will be seniors next fall – tailback Arian Foster, wideout Lucas Taylor, guard Anthony Parker and linebacker Jerod Mayo to name a few. There also are some key players who will be juniors next fall – wideout Austin Rogers, tight end Jeff Cottam, quarterback Jonathan Crompton, center Josh McNeil, defensive tackle Dan Williams and linebacker Rico McCoy, for instance.

Still, a lot of potential difference-makers will be sophomores and redshirt freshmen next fall – tailbacks Lennon Creer and Daryl Vereen, wideouts Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore, tight end Luke Stocker, H-back Kevin Cooper, defensive ends Ben Martin and Chris Walker, defensive tackle Donald Langley, linebacker Savion Frazier, defensive backs Eric Berry, Brent Vinson, Dennis Rogan and Art Evans.

Although Berry and Vinson already have proven themselves to be SEC-caliber players, the rest of the rising sophomores and redshirt freshmen have not. That's why Tennessee's staff is giving them a lot of practice repetitions during bowl preparations – to hasten the development process and try to discover who can be counted on for major contributions in '08.

"It's like having another spring practice," defensive coordinator John Chavis said. "You look forward to that. They're going to grow a little bit."

Even freshmen as talented as the 2007 group have trouble getting on the field at Tennessee because of the complexity of the Vols' schemes. A few – Berry and Vinson, for instance – manage to overcome the occasional mental mistake with raw physical ability. Most UT freshmen are not so fortunate, which is why they see little or no meaningful action in Year 1.

"There's concepts you try to teach as the season goes on," Chavis noted. "I've sat in that same chair where those freshmen sit a long, long time ago. I remember when I was asked if I understood, I would always nod my head yeah, I understand. But, really, I didn't understand."

Fortunately, bowl preparations provide the offensive and defensive coaches more time to spend teaching these concepts and schemes to UT's younger players.

"They're getting a better understanding of what we're trying to do and a better understanding of concepts," Chavis said. "More practice time will give them an opportunity to be further along come spring practice."

Although offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe won't be back for Tennessee's 2008 season, he is still determined to prepare the young offensive players who will be back for '08.

"We're going to have work all along for the returning squad," he said. "We'll do that on a regular basis."

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