KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- When Tennessee senior defensive tackle
Malik Jackson looks at the Volunteers' depth chart peppered with
freshmen and sophomore, he sees something more than youth.
"If they're there, then that means they have to have a lot of talent, and you know they know what they're doing," he said. "When I see (sophomore defensive tackle) Corey Miller's name, I don't see age. I don't see Jacques (Smith) as a sophomore. I just see them as the best guy at that position."
The Vols are expected to start 14 underclassmen in Saturday's
season opener against Montana. And while second-year coach Derek
Dooley feels better about his team's size, speed and ability than a
year ago, he won't go so far as to say he's more comfortable than
he was heading into last year's season opener .
"In many ways, there's even more unknown going into this game than we had last year because we had more guys that had played last year," he said. "We don't have very many guys that played, so there's a lot of concern about how we're going to handle the first time running through the `T."'
Grizzlies coach Robin Pflugrad isn't caught up in Tennessee's youth, either. He sees a team loaded on talent and speed.
"Athletes everywhere," he said of the Vols' roster. "So much of our practice time was dedicated to ones versus ones, and that was some of the intent of that practice, to hopefully help pay off on Saturday night when we see a lot of team speed."
Many of Tennessee's young players won't be without experience when they take the field at Neyland Stadium. Sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray returns after leading the Vols to wins in four of their final five games last season.
Sophomore wide receivers Da'Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter return as two of his favorite targets, and most of the Vols' offensive line, which includes four sophomores and a junior, saw significant playing time last season.
"On offense they're pretty multiple on formations," said Montana senior linebacker Caleb McSurdy, who led the team with 112
tackles last year. "We've spent a lot of time in the film room understanding it and coming clear on how to get a line properly
because if you can't line up against these guys then you have no
chance. I think as long as everybody shows up and plays as hard as
they can, then that's all you can ask for."
Montana's defense has been its strength throughout fall camp, and Tennessee offensive coordinator Jim Chaney is particularly concerned about cornerback Trumaine Johnson. The two-time all-Big
Sky player returned four interceptions for 88 yards and logged 44
tackles last year.
"Our wideouts are going to have to come to play if they end up matched on him because he is going to compete and see how good he can be," Chaney said. "Our guys are going to do that every week.
They are going to play against a (lot of) good football players, so
I hope they rise to the occasion and compete at the level we expect
Tennessee tailback Tauren Poole is the lone starting senior this
year. Poole rushed for 1,034 yards last season, and he and the
offensive line are eager to show how much farther they can go this
"The line "is a lot different from last year," Poole said. "They are moving fast and they are communicating. They have shown a lot of maturity. They just told me to run. I'm excited about what those guys are going to do. I know they are going to do great things. We just have to continue to believe in ourselves and have the confidence that we need."
The Vols defense will be facing a fast-paced spread style Montana offense that has reminded a few coaches and players of last year's loss to Oregon, the team whose wide receivers Pflugrad coached for three seasons before joining the Grizzlies.
Three freshmen -- linebackers Curt Maggitt and A.J. Johnson and
cornerback Justin Coleman -- will be among those trying to contain
players like talented Grizzlies tight ends Greg Hardy and Kavario
Middleton and wide receiver Jabin Sambrano.
Pflugrad likes to play many players in preparing for a possible
Football Championship Subdivision playoff run, and he plans to
rotate quite a few against Tennessee.
"We have to play a lot of players in this particular game because of not knowing where we are in a couple of spots but also in the ability to stay fresh," he said. "That will be key in the state of Tennessee with the humidity and the crowd."