Highlights from practice - April 16, 2009
UT head coach, Lane Kiffin, talks to the media following Thursday's practice at Haslam field. Watch »
UT defensive end, Chris Walker, talks about what being named the most improved defensive player of spring practice means to him. Watch »
UT quarterback, Jonathan Crompton, isn't resting on his laurels. After being placed in the number one position in the depth charts, he's still pushing himself as if he were in last place. Watch »
UT assistant head coach, Ed Orgeron, talks about Chris Walker being named the most improved defensive player in spring practice and the impending Orange and White game this Saturday. Watch »
With the Vols' final spring practice before Saturday's Orange and White game in the books, Tennessee's coaches have a much better feel for their personnel than they did six weeks ago.
But head coach Lane Kiffin's pledge of open competition won't end Saturday evening, either, even as UT's first true depth chart begins to take shape.
"I don't think you're ever satisfied," Kiffin said Thursday. "This staff pushes so hard to do things at such a high level, but we did get a lot done. We've got a much better handle on our players, what they can do and what they can't do."
UT's major playmakers aren't all that different than they were a year ago.
Safety Eric Berry, despite being limited from full contact this spring, is UT's best player. Receiver Gerald Jones is dynamic. Linebacker Rico McCoy will be a staple in the starting lineup this fall.
Of course, as with any spring, there have been surprises.
Kiffin called end Chris Walker UT's best player on the field this spring. Receiver Quintin Hancock has been solid, both in his performance and work ethic.
True freshman defensive tackle Montori Hughes has shown he can contribute come the fall.
And while fans who make their way to Neyland Stadium for Saturday's 3 p.m. kickoff will see a depth chart in the game program, it's about as fluid as the Tennessee River.
Which is to say that it's definitely subject to change between Saturday afternoon's intrasquad game and the season opener against Western Kentucky on Sept. 5.
"I don't know necessarily if we can put a nail down on a depth chart," offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said. "What we're finding out is individually what these young men can do. As you put the game plans together, you can find out what they're going to be able to do and what they can't do.
"As far as a depth chart, I think we're going to let this competition keep on going a lot of times. What you find is some kids that have played a lot of football are really antsy about what's going on, but Coach made it very clear when we walked in the door that everything is open. And we are following true to that. That's exactly what we're doing here."
That appears to be what the Vols will do at several positions, including quarterback.
While Jonathan Crompton has a slight edge leaving spring drills, neither B.J. Coleman nor Nick Stephens have been eliminated from the running.
It's the same story at one receiver position, right tackle, middle and strongside linebacker, free safety and cornerback.
And that's just for now.
The Vols will welcome the Rivals.com's top overall recruit in tailback Bryce Brown to campus sometime this summer, as well as the recruiting Web site's top all-purpose back in David Oku.
True freshmen also could push for playing time - if not a starting spot - at wide receiver, linebacker and in the secondary. Giving incoming freshmen a chance to earn a starting job is another promise that Kiffin made when spring practice began.
And the operative word is earn.
"There's nobody, 'Oh, you're a four-star, five-star player, highly touted player. You're going to be our starter,' " defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. "It won't happen that way. They'll have to win it.
"You can't have them back here, 'You get three reps today.' You got to give them the reps. That's where Lane's taken the philosophy, and that's what we're going to do - get these players the reps. And if they're not ready to start, they're not ready to start."
Crompton, who remains at the center of the highest-profile competition, said he and his teammates will all be ready to work.
"We're practicing like we're the last guy on the depth chart," Crompton said. "That's a good thing, in my opinion, because it makes you work harder. That's the thing, even if guys know they're in the lead or kind of got the edge, they're not giving up. And Coach Kiffin's not going to let them give up. I love that."
Drew Edwards covers University of Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274.