Open competition

Each year Tennessee's spring football depth chart features a surprise or two. This year's surprise may be the biggest yet: There is no depth chart.

Rather than throw together a chart based on last year's game film and a few offseason drills, first-year head man Lane Kiffin has elected to put every Vol on equal footing heading into today's first workout. This way the players have no ego issues and the coaches have no preconceived notions.

"We don't have a depth chart, and the reason is because the competition is open," Kiffin said, subsequently adding: "Our depth chart will start to develop throughout spring. We're in no rush to figure that out. We've got to find out who can play and who can help us win."

That's especially true of Tennessee's offensive players.

"All we've gotten to see them do is run around some cones," Kiffin said, "so I don't have an idea at all about our talent on offense. But I'm OK with that. If you start judging everything off of the way guys run in shorts – without pads on and without a ball – that's the reason you get messed-up depth charts.

"That's why we're not making one right now. If we were to make one right now it'd be based off of stuff that really isn't football."

Besides, with the season opener vs. Western Kentucky 180 days away, the head coach figures he has plenty of time to determine a pecking order at each position.

"We're not worried about who's with the first team right now because it doesn't matter," Kiffin said. "We're not going to win any game tomorrow; we're not going to win any game the rest of the month. What we have to figure out is: Who are the players who can perform at a championship level to help us win on Saturdays in the fall?"

The new coach promises to leave no stone unturned in that quest. He's planning to give each player a chance to prove himself under a variety of circumstances.

As Kiffin noted: "You'll see different first units when we go to each drill.... The reason for that is, if we put guys with the first unit all the time, they're set up to succeed. We've got to figure out: Can you succeed when you're with some backup players? Can you succeed when you're going against the first unit on the other side of the ball?

"Everyone will earn their spot."

No one will earn his spot this spring, however. Kiffin vows to throw open the competition again when the 2009 signees show up in August for the start of preseason drills.

"Know this for down the road: We're going to have a lot of competition every spring and every fall," he said. "There's going to be a lot of jobs open. Every spring the same thing is going to be told to our (veteran) players: This is their chance to shine because we're going to go with truly great players every year.... When these freshmen come in here, they're going to get the most reps the first week of fall camp.

"Because we have all this tape and we've had all of this time to see these (returning) guys, we're not going to put our freshmen at fifth-team and make them work their way up. When you do that, you don't learn the guys fast enough. It's hard to perform at fifth-team and be a great player, so we're going to put our freshman at the top and see how many guys can stay up there ... see how many can help us right away, instead of waiting till halfway through the season to figure that out."

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