Deceptive depth chart

Throwing open the starting positions prompted Tennessee's football players to work diligently all spring. Keeping those jobs open should keep the Vols working diligently till fall.

And that, apparently, is precisely what the Big Orange coaching staff has in mind. The post-spring depth chart shows two or more players bracketed first-team at nine of the 22 positions. Moreover, the 13 positions which list a single first-teamer are far from settled.

"Nothing's etched in stone yet," defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. "We're going to come back in the fall and still compete. We have a lot of players that are very, very close to being a starter or not a starter."

During his 43 years in the coaching ranks, Kiffin has developed a unique approach regarding depth charts. Here's how he summarizes it:

"I emphasize to the players all the time: When you play on game day, everybody that goes on that field is a starter. When you run on that field, you're a starter."

That philosophy has merit. Whether a guy is in the opening lineup or not, once he takes the field he becomes the key player at his position. That's why Kiffin believes starting jobs are overrated.

"It's not just that our team is made up of 11 offense, 11 defense and 11 special teams – 33 guys," he said. "You don't run into the game at Neyland Stadium in the middle of the second quarter against Western Kentucky and say, 'Oh, I'm the backup linebacker. I'm in the game now.'

"If you're in the game, you're a starter. We try to approach it that way, and I think our players have accepted that. We do have a lot of competition going now. That's good for our team, good for the players."

Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney may not have a philosophy as colorful as Kiffin's but he also believes projecting who Tennessee's 2009 starters will be is an exercise in futility at this point.

"I don't know necessarily that we can nail down a depth chart," he said. "What we're finding out is that these young men individually can do. As you put a game plan together, you can find out what they can and can't do.

"As far as a depth chart, I think we're going to let this competition keep on going a lot of times. Coach (head man Lane Kiffin) made it very clear when he walked through the door that everything is open, and we are following through on that."

Don't be surprised if that follow-through continues right up to game week.

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