Talent comes in twos at Tennessee.
Competition is ongoing between two pairs of former highly rated prospects at two key positions as the Vols prepare for their second week of preseason camp.
At tailback, there’s Bryce Brown and David Oku. At receiver, there’s Nu’Keese Richardson and Marsalis Teague.
Oku lived vicariously from the sideline through Brown on Thursday, when Brown took at least three hard hits and suffered a slight concussion.
“I think I did a prayer real quick and crossed my chest,” Oku joked Sunday at UT’s media day when asked about the hits. “I was like ‘Oh, my gosh.’ That’s college football for you. It was crazy. I was just like ‘Please don’t let me get hurt.’ ”
Oku and Brown shared a similar experience in recruiting. Both were considered two of the elite prospects in the nation. Both announced their decision long after National Signing Day.
Brown was rated the No. 1 prospect in the country. Yet he said that status didn’t make him any more of a target to UT’s returning defenders.
“Once you step foot on this campus, all that stuff in the past doesn’t matter,” Brown said.
Perhaps. Brown, however, knew he would be tested when the Vols donned shoulder pads.
“Before I got here, the guys said they were going to see how tough I am,” Brown said. “I told them I expect that. That’s what I want. I can’t go into the game without going all out.”
Oku smiled when asked to compare himself to Brown.
The 5-foot-10, 184-pound Oku said he’s a bit quicker and has better vision, which allows him to avoid those big hits. Brown, who is 6-foot and 215 pounds, has more power but Oku isn’t afraid to run over a defender — if he has to.
“I can probably lower the shoulder but you won’t catch me doing it that much,” Oku said. “He (Brown) can do it all the time.”
Oku admitted that he was surprised to find out that Brown is the faster tailback despite the size difference.
“That dude can move, man,” Oku said. “But I can change direction quicker than he can. I got him there.”
Oku said he and Brown learned that they need to limit the freestyle aspects of their game. A juke and a spin move (which Brown was fond of until his tough Thursday) just slows them down and allows defenders to tee off.
With a week’s worth of preseason practice behind them, both are ready to continue their battle for playing time.
“If you don’t like competition, you shouldn’t be playing football,” Oku said. “Competition makes you get better as a player when you don’t even know it.”
As for Richardson and Teague, they’re tougher to compare, partly because they’re so similar.
“We’re both small,” Teague joked.
True. Richardson is 5-10 and 165 pounds. Teague is 5-10 and 180 pounds. The two split victories in agility drills. Neither knows who is faster.
“We don’t know yet,” Teague said. “We’ve never raced each other.”
They share another common bond; they continually make plays in practice.
“I just felt comfortable out there,” Teague said of preseason camp. “You have to feel confident out there. If you don’t feel confident, you second-guess yourself.”
Richardson also has handled the speed of the game well.
“I’m real comfortable,” he said.
Richardson and Teague walked a similar path in recruiting. Both were committed to Florida before signing with the Vols.
Richardson’s signing can be especially helpful. The Pahokee, Fla., native could help lead prospects to Knoxville.
“Being from Florida and coming to Tennessee, it can help in a big way,” he said. “A lot of Florida players will be looking at it.”
Richardson said he’s not worried about the aftermath of head coach Lane Kiffin’s critical remarks about Pahokee High School and the surrounding community.
“There’s still talk every now and then,” Richardson said. “But I’m here now so it doesn’t matter.”
Richardson said he doesn’t believe the comments will hurt UT’s recruiting in the Pahokee area because his opinions on Kiffin and the Vols will hold more weight.
Teague said for all their differences, the roommates share a common bond.
“We’re two different people, but we both have the same goal; that’s helping this university win a national championship,” he said.
Well Positioned: Greg King has been moved to strongside linebacker from middle linebacker. … Nyshier Oliver said he has worked exclusively at cornerback since arriving on campus. Some schools recruited Oliver as a safety. … Jerod Askew is working exclusively at weakside linebacker after playing the middle in high school.