Delayed gratification

The climax of preseason football practice is naming your first-teamers, but Tennessee's Lane Kiffin is the kind of guy who likes to put off the climax as long as possible.

So, don't be surprised if the guy who declared all of the Vols' starting jobs up for grabs before spring practice says the same thing AFTER spring practice. Pinpointing projected first-teamers is not high on his list of priorities, even in the offensive line, where developing cohesion and teamwork is considered important.

"I'm not worried about it. It's not going to matter," he said recently. "Let's just find the good players. We don't have to worry about that the left guard is playing with the left tackle. That's overrated ... that they're playing every snap together. Let's find our best players and not pigeon-hole us into thinking somebody is (the best)."

Kiffin has seen the Vols practice three times to date, but only the last of those workouts was in full pads. Thus, the evaluation process is still in its infancy.

"The longer we wait to get those guys together," he said of the starting offensive and defensive units, "the more we make sure we find the best guys."

Kiffin believes the worst-case scenario is pegging a guy a first-teamer, then realizing you have to burst his bubble by demoting him.

Here's the way the head man put it: "As coaches, once you start saying 'These are our starters,' it gets very difficult and becomes a lot of mind games (in terms of) benching people and moving people up, as opposed to just letting them compete."

Kiffin and his assistants are spending a significant portion of Tennessee's 10-day spring break watching film of the first three practices and deciding which players might warrant a look at another position. Don't be surprised to see several Vols at new outposts when spring ball resumes on Tuesday.

"You'll see us make evaluations on guys and start flipping 'em around to different spots just to see where they can help, especially once we figure out some spots are overloaded," Kiffin said. "There are some spots, like O-line, where we don't have a lot of numbers in, so we'll always be looking for ways to get players on the field."

Inside Tennessee Top Stories