Starting fresh(men) pays

Mere seconds after he raced 34 yards around right end in the third quarter of Saturday's opener, Bryce Brown got (a) pulled from the lineup and (b) an earful from running backs coach Eddie Gran.

Clearly, the Vols do not coddle their freshmen.

"I was disappointed in his long run down the right sideline - the way he finished," head coach Lane Kiffin explained after the game. "We pulled him because he ran out of bounds. He did not finish in the style that we teach around here, so that was disappointing, but he'll learn from it."

What Brown will learn is that Tennessee's staff is expecting its freshmen to play like veterans. Actually, the staff is DEMANDING its freshmen to play like veterans. For the Vols to compete in the rugged Southeastern Conference the rookies must make significant contributions. In Saturday's opener they did precisely that.

Brown finished with 104 yards on just 11 carries, a whopping 9.5 yards-per-carry average. He also delivered a fumble-causing shot following a WKU pass interception. Fellow freshman David Oku added 42 yards on eight rushes.

"Bryce played well," Kiffin said. "He had a great hit on the tipped ball/interception and forced a fumble. He's an explosive player."

Marsalis Teague started at wideout and led all Vols in receptions (6) and receiving yards (86). Fellow rookies Nu'keese Richardson (three catches for 30 yards) and Zach Rogers (one catch for 11 yards) also contributed to the passing attack.

No freshmen started on defense but safeties Darren Myles (1 tackle) and Janzen Jackson played a lot. Nigel Mitchell-Thornton recorded 2 tackles, including a tackle for loss, and fellow linebacker Greg King saw some playing time. Mike Edwards got several snaps at cornerback.

Oku shared first-team kickoff return chores with junior Dennis Rogan, returning one kick for 21 yards. Richardson was the No. 1 punt return man but briefly surrendered the job to Rogan after muffing WKU's initial punt. Richardson came back, however, to finish with 30 yards on three punt returns.

Kiffin said his staff worked hard to prepare the freshmen for Game 1.

"We spent a lot of time with their mentality - making sure we calmed them down as much as we could," the head man said. "Sure enough, Nu'Keese puts the first punt on the ground."

Richardson also muffed punts in UT's final two preseason scrimmages. He is so elusive, however, that Vol coaches are willing to overlook the ball security issues ... for now.

"He does have to get through it," Kiffin said, adding that he used Rogan on the second punt return because it was "a backed-up punt situation ... we don't use Nu'Keese when he's backed up anyway because usually we don't have a return. Then we went back to him (for subsequent returns).

"That's our philosophy," the head man added. "Guys are going to screw up, especially freshmen. We're not going to pull 'em at that point and not put 'em back in. We've got to get through those things. You saw him (Richardson) get more confidence as the game went on with his returns. He was fielding the ball better and looking more confident - just as some of the other freshmen did."

While Brown upset his coaches by running out of bounds and Richardson scared them by mishandling a punt, one rookie played like a fifth-year senior.

"I thought Marsalis especially did not look like a freshman," Kiffin said. "A lot of times we see them (frosh receivers) line up wrong, and the quarterback's having to move them around or they're false-starting or they're not on the line of scrimmage when they're supposed to be. I thought Marsalis was extremely impressive, especially to start and (carry) all the pressure that goes with that."

All told, 10 true freshmen played in Tennessee's opener. Asked if that sends a message to potential recruits, Kiffin nodded.

"If you come here as a freshman, we're going to play you if you work hard," he said. "Bryce Brown went over 100 yards today. Marsalis Teague was our leading receiver. Nu'Keese was back returning punts. David Oku looked really good; I just wish we could've gotten him more carries. Janzen Jackson and Darren Myles played a ton of plays as the two safeties.

"If you come here, we're going to give you a shot. The kids have talked a lot about that. It's one thing to hear it; it's another thing to do it.

"It was real good to see those kids respond today."


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