New experience

Tennessee's most heralded freshman fumbled twice in his first practice as a Vol earlier this month - once after a resounding jolt by middle linebacker Herman Lathers and again on a hit-and-strip by weakside linebacker Rico McCoy.

Bryce Brown admits he wasn't accustomed to those kind of shots. Truth be told, he wasn't used to ANY kind of shots.

"I hadn't been hit that many times, so it was a big adjustment for me, taking hits like that," he said following Saturday's situational scrimmage.

Brown wasn't hit much at Wichita East High School because he rarely stopped until he was shoved out of bounds or crossed the goal line. That's how he ran for 1,872 yards last fall and earned recognition as the No. 1 prospect in America.

He needed just one workout at UT, however, to discover that college defenders run a lot faster and hit a lot harder than high school defenders.

"I told some of the guys that I think I've been hit more times in this camp than I have since I've been playing football," he said, "so it's been an adjustment."

Apparently, he's adjusted quite well. Hard shots no longer cause him to fumble. Heck, hard shots barely cause him to slow down. At 6-0 and 218 pounds, he's built to take a licking and keep on ticking.

"I think with my body build I'm able to take those hits," he said. "And, as time went on, I got used to it."

Brown has been so impressive the past two weeks that he is bracketed first-team at tailback with Montario Hardesty as the Vols open preparation for Saturday's opener against Western Kentucky. Obviously, a freshman being bracketed with a fifth-year senior is a bit of a surprise.

"I look up to Montario," Brown said. "I believe Montario has unbelievable talents and I believe he's going to be successful at the next level. I feel like watching him will make my game better."

Although injuries have sidetracked his college career, Hardesty remains upbeat and enthusiastic. That impresses Brown.

"Always have a positive attitude," the freshman said when asked what he has learned from Hardesty. "Always work, no matter how you're feeling or what you're going through. He's always doing the work. And he plays free; that's one thing I've noticed about him: He plays free.

"I don't really play free. I'm not the type of guy that jumps around and is more of a vocal leader. That's where I want to get at. Montario's there right now, and I can obviously learn from him."

Waiting their turns behind Hardesty and Brown are two more quality backs - sophomore Tauren Poole (5-10, 188) and freshman David Oku (5-10, 184). Instead of worrying about all of this competition, Brown is thrilled about it.

"It's beautiful to me. I love it," he said. "We're all brothers. We're all team. We understand that there's competition here but in the end we're all looking to get to the same place. In the end, the only way to do that is to help each other out."

Although Brown has done most of his running between the tackles in scrimmages, the 4.3 speedster is quick enough to get outside. In fact, that's where he did most of his damage back in Wichita.

"If I can remember it was toss left, toss right to Bryce in high school," he said. "I feel a lot more comfortable being out on the edge. I'm still getting used to the zone (run scheme) stuff but I never really ran zone - ran between the tackles. Screens, sweeps and stuff like that I feel a lot more comfortable."

Knowing college offenses feature a lot of passes to the backs, Brown worked hard on catching the ball in recent months.

"I spent a lot of time working on that during summer training sessions back at home," he said. "I would always do wide receiver drills, run wide receiver routes, throw with some pretty good quarterbacks in the area.

"I actually worked on that more than I did running back stuff. I'm working more on my running back stuff now because I think I can improve a lot with Coach (Eddie) Gran and his ability, just looking at his resume."

Because he carried the ball so often in high school, Brown is still learning to block.

"Oh, yeah," he said with a laugh. "All of the backs have to block. That's the No. 1 rule - be able to protect the quarterback. I'm excited for Western Kentucky to see how well I do blocking. It's just going to take reps to get comfortable with it but I'm excited."

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