Fresh start

It's a short list: Jamal Lewis, Michael Munoz, Rashad Baker, Brent Shaeffer, Erik Ainge, Eric Berry.

Phillip Fulmer was hesitant to play true freshmen during his stint as Tennessee's head football coach but he made exceptions for the six players mentioned above. All possessed the physical skills, the mental toughness and the poise to compete at the highest level of college football. and all wound up starting as Vol freshmen.

Unlike his predecessor, Lane Kiffin is not hesitant to play freshmen. In fact, the Vols' first-year head man might start as many as six in Saturday's opener vs. Western Kentucky - equaling in his first game the number that Fulmer started during his 16-year Vol tenure.

Check it out:

- Nu'keese Richardson is scheduled to start at one receiver spot, and fellow rookie Marsalis Teague (a first-teamer in the final preseason scrimmage) conceivably could start on the other side.

- Bryce Brown could start at tailback, where he is bracketed No. 1 with senior Montario Hardesty.

- Montori Hughes could start at nose tackle, where he is bracketed No. 1 with senior Dan Williams.

- Mike Edwards could start at left cornerback, where he is bracketed No. 1 with sophomore Anthony Anderson.

- Janzen Jackson could start at free safety, where he is bracketed No. 1 with junior Dennis Rogan.

All-America safety Eric Berry recently described this freshman class as "very special," adding that "There are some great players and they're going to shock a lot of people when their time comes to be on the field."

Richardson, though only 5-10 and 165 pounds, is an amazing blend of blazing speed and mind-boggling moves. He might be Tennessee's most electrifying player since Condredge Holloway.

"He's very explosive," Berry said. "The one thing about Nu'Keese is he's a great competitor. He doesn't back down from any challenges. If he has a bad play the play before he doesn't remember it. If he has a good play the play before he doesn't remember it. He's on to the next play, basically trying to make a play for his team."

Only a half-step behind Richardson in terms of big-play potential is Brown. Rated the No. 1 prospect in America last winter, the 6-0, 218-pounder's combination of raw power and 4.4 speed makes him a threat to score each time he touches the ball.

"I expect him to come out and contribute to this team greatly, considering how he works in practice, the natural ability he has and how quickly it seems like he's grasped the playbook," Berry said. "How he picks me up on blitzes (in practice) and how he reads defenses is very impressive for a freshman."

Senior quarterback Jonathan Crompton is intrigued by the potential impact of Tennessee's freshmen, as well.

"The whole class is a talented bunch of young men," he said. "They learned on the run really well. It should be fun for a few years to watch 'em."

With Lane Kiffin calling the shots, the chance to "watch 'em" could arrive shortly after Saturday's 12:21 kickoff.


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