Worthy walk-ons

When your depth chart is dotted with walk-ons, you can choose one of three explanations:

A. Your walk-on program has been strong

B. Your recruiting has been weak

C. Some of A and B

Whatever the case might be at Tennessee, the Vols' post-spring depth chart features a significant number of players who entered the program without benefit of a scholarship.

On offense, the most notable are 6-1, 260-pound senior Cody Sullins (bracketed No. 1 at center), 6-1, 270-pound senior Cory Sullins (the No. 2 left guard) and 6-3, 293-pound junior Minor Bowens (the No. 4 right guard).

On defense, the notables include 5-10, 220-pound senior Nick Reveiz (bracketed No. 1 at middle linebacker), 5-11, 210-pound sophomore Shane Reveiz (bracketed No. 1 at strongside linebacker), 6-1, 190-pound senior Derrick Furlow (the No. 2 strong safety) and 6-0, 210-pound freshman Grant Jessen (the No. 4 weakside linebacker). Six-foot, 200-pound sophomore Tyler Wolf, though not listed on the post-spring depth chart, got a lot of practice reps at free safety.

In addition, freshman walk-on Ethan Ingham booted field goals of 44 and 37 yards in the Orange & White Game and is putting some heat on scholarship junior Daniel Lincoln. Meanwhile, senior walk-on Steven Hensley is the No. 2 punter behind scholarship junior Chad Cunningham.

Nick Reveiz, Cody Sullins and Furlow have earned scholarships during their stints at Tennessee. Whether their emergence as contributors is a credit to them or an indictment of UT's recent recruiting classes is debatable ... and, in the opinion of offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, immaterial.

"When I coach a football player I really am not looking at whether they're on scholarship or not," Chaney said. "We're coaching 'em, and they're football players on our team trying to compete for spots.

"I'm sure those kids come in with a little bit more hunger than others. Their competitive spirit is out there. I'd be willing to bet that Cody and Cory Sullins 20 years from now will be very successful because of who they are inside. They're very competitive young men inside.

"But, as far as kids on and off scholarship, I don't put much into that. When they're on the football field, they're football players. I go that route."

Cody Sullins could be the most improbable story in college football this fall. He has a chance to unseat scholarship senior Josh McNeil, who has started 35 games the past three years.

Chaney conceded that this is a unique situation but quickly added: "We're always going to try to play the best football players and let everybody compete for a spot. We try to develop enough competitiveness at each position where every year that young man is trying to compete for a spot.

"At the end of the day, if Josh ends up being the center or Cody does, we're going to be better because of the competitiveness in that situation. Tennessee football will benefit."

Of all the current players who came to UT without scholarships, Nick Reveiz has the best chance to start after receiving most of the first-team repetitions at middle linebacker during spring practice. Getting that kind of contribution from an unsigned player in college, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin says, is like getting key help from an undrafted player in pro football.

"I think it's the same as a free agent," said Kiffin, who came to the Vols after a 13-year stint with the NFL's Tampa Bay Bucs. "Chuck Darby started as a free agent (for the Bucs after being undrafted in 2001) out of South Carolina State."

Kiffin has a healthier respect for non-scholarship players than most. That's because he played and coached at Nebraska, which has perhaps the finest walk-on program in all of college football.

"I came from Nebraska, which had a big walk-on program when I played and coached there," he said. "You treat everybody the same. Even the veteran players and scholarship players respect that, too. If it works out, it works out.

"Just because you're a walk-on doesn't mean you're going to get pushed aside. Let's let 'em play. If they get a scholarship they deserve one."

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