Rambunctious rookies

Tennessee's freshman defensive backs have proved beyond any doubt that they can talk the talk. Now it's time for them to walk the walk.

Mike Edwards, Janzen Jackson, Darren Myles, Nyshier Oliver and Eric Gordon are really talented. They also are really feisty and really brash. Here's a sample:

- When Edwards belted Montario Hardesty to the ground in an early August thud (no-tackle) drill on Haslam Field, the senior tailback glared at the rookie cornerback. Edwards' response? "Get used to it."

- When Luke Stocker caught a pass over the middle in a "no-contact" drill at the indoor practice facility, Jackson yanked at the junior tight end's arms so forcefully that he literally threw himself to the turf while stripping the ball from Stocker's grasp.

- When Gerald Jones caught a pass in another thud drill, Myles bumped him so aggressively that Jones went sprawling. Bouncing to his feet, the unflappable junior receiver yelled: "What are y'all teaching these boys?"

- When third-team defenders forced the No. 1 offense into a three-and-out in last Saturday's situational scrimmage, Oliver incurred a 15-yard penalty for taunting.

Edwards, Jackson, Myles, Oliver and Gordon might be the finest group of DBs Tennessee has ever signed in one class. They might be the cockiest, as well.

"They're not really cocky," All-America safety Eric Berry said. "I would just say they are VERY confident. They know what they can do and know what their talents are. Just having that confidence at defensive back is a very good thing, especially as freshmen.

"You don't want to come in here thinking you can't do something because in college they're going to take advantage of you. There's no pity in college. If they see a weak DB they're going to take advantage the whole game."

Apologies to Berry but these frosh defensive backs ARE cocky. They know they're good, and they aren't shy about expressing it.

"We brag every day," Myles conceded. "We tell the upperclassmen we're better than them - more athletic and stuff like that."

The depth chart shows Edwards bracketed first-team at left corner, Jackson bracketed first-team at free safety and Myles bracketed second-team at strong safety. All three will play Saturday vs. Western Kentucky. Most likely, Gordon and Oliver will play, as well.

"We've got so much talent you've got no choice but to play us all," Jackson said. "We're just trying to make our imprint on the Tennessee defense."

They're making an imprint, all right. Head coach Lane Kiffin recently noted that Jackson was "phenomenal" in the Aug. 22 scrimmage and said of Edwards: "We think eventually he'll be a great player here."

If the young DBs live up to their own expectations, all five of them eventually will be great players.

"They're very confident," noted No. 2 quarterback Nick Stephens, who has faced the rambunctious rookies in scrimmages and practice drills all preseason. "But you've got to be confident playing in a league like this. You've got to have guys with that kind of confidence that they think they can play right now, and a lot of 'em can. That confidence carries over to other guys, and it's a good thing for the team."

As physically gifted as they are, the rookie DBs get burned occasionally because of mental mistakes. They didn't get burned nearly as much in late August, however, as they did in early August.

"Even though they might not know what they're doing all the time, their raw talent helps them out and they're able to make plays," Stephens said. "It's great to go against guys like that every day; it's only going to make us better."

Clearly, this is a superior group of freshman DBs.

Just ask 'em.

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