Tough luck for Vol vets

In years past, head coach Phillip Fulmer allowed Tennessee's established veterans to spend most of spring football practice watching the younger, unproven players try to impress the staff.

But that was then, and this is now.

Whereas Fulmer knew what to expect from his veteran players by the time spring practice rolled around, first-year head man Lane Kiffin has no such knowledge. That's why he's putting all of the Volunteers through the same rigorous evaluation process – veterans and rookies alike.

Naturally, this change in philosophy seems pretty dramatic for rising seniors such as Montario Hardesty. Under Fulmer, he would've been the heir-apparent at tailback, barely breaking a sweat as rising junior Lennon Creer and rising sophomore Tauren Poole got most of the practice repetitions this spring. Under Kiffin, however, Hardesty is just another guy competing for playing time.

Although his seniority has lost much of its value, Hardesty isn't the least bit concerned that he's being asked to prove himself all over again.

"If you'd been playing in the past, you could – I wouldn't say 'chill' – but Coach Fulmer would rest you a little bit to see how the other guys played," Hardesty said. "Now everybody's going to be playing more, so there's going to be more competition on the practice field, which is going to make us a better team."

Like his teammates, Hardesty is amazed by the level of energy and enthusiasm displayed by the new coaching staff, especially offensive coordinator Jim Chaney.

"There's a whole lot of energy on the practice field, quick-paced practices," he said. "Coach Chaney always says he'll demand a whole lot out of us, so I think they're going to push us real hard."

Whereas Fulmer tended to give the previous season's second-teamers the initial shot at replacing departed first-teamers, Kiffin has made clear that every job is wide open this spring.

Hardesty has no problem with that, and he believes the other veterans feel the same way.

"I think there's a lot of energy on the field and a lot of competition among the players because everybody feels like they have a fresh chance," he said. "I think that's going to be good for us as a team."

As Vol fans are painfully aware, Hardesty has battled a seemingly endless series of injuries throughout his Vol career. They're hoping he can stay healthy for his final season. He's hoping the same thing.

"Right now I'm 100 percent healthy," he said. "Last fall I was dealing with a stress fracture in my leg during the season. I'm completely healthy now and ready to get on the football field."


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