If Tennessee's upperclassmen resent being upstaged by their freshman counterparts, they're not saying so publicly.
In fact, those being directly challenged by the class of 2009 were motivated or unaffected on Monday when asked about UT's depth chart, which included six freshmen either starting or bracketed as co-starters.
The most high-profile of those surging freshmen is tailback Bryce Brown, who was named a co-starter along with senior Montario Hardesty for Saturday's season opener against Western Kentucky (TV: MyVLT2, 12:21 p.m.) in Neyland Stadium.
Hardesty confident after intense camp
"The depth chart doesn't matter," Hardesty said. "I'm not going to take the load off myself all season anyway."
Even though it may cost Hardesty some carries, he's relieved that practice performances are paying off.
"I like it because there's competition all across the board," he said. "I've seen in the past where there were guys that probably could play that didn't get a chance."
Fellow tailback Tauren Poole was dealt an even tougher blow by the depth chart. The sophomore was listed behind Hardesty, Brown and another highly touted freshman, David Oku.
"It's a lot of motivation," Poole said. "Ever since (the freshmen) came, it kind of put me on the backburner."
Poole is not complaining. He's had a solid preseason and knows that game performance will be the true test of Tennessee's tailbacks.
"Coaches are emphasizing that the more you produce, the more you play," he said.
The tailback depth chart is especially crowded. All have shown play-making ability in preseason camp.
"I think we can all do good things with the ball in our hand," Hardesty said.
Defensive tackle Dan Williams is another senior whose once seemingly solidified starting spot has been challenged by a freshman. Newcomer Montori Hughes has practiced well enough to pull even with Williams.
Williams admitted he started slowly in preseason camp, that he made some mental errors as Hughes kept improving.
"Doing some things I could probably do with the old coaching staff that I can't do with this one," he said of his mistakes.
Williams said poor technique and a lack of discipline in gap control were his two main problems.
"Toward the end it got a lot better," Williams said. "I made a lot less mistakes."
The competition seems to have had an effect on the scales. Williams is down to 315 pounds from 327 when he started preseason camp. He expects to weigh 310 by Saturday.
Williams said Hughes' emergence has motivated him to clean up his game.
"Everyday he's out here improving," Williams said coming off the practice field Monday. "He's getting good. He's going to help the team out.
"At the same time, I was making a lot of mistakes and he was doing a lot of things right. The coaches were honest with me. They've got to do what's better for the team."
Junior receiver Brandon Warren wasn't even named a co-starter. What once looked like his starting job is now lost to freshman Nu'Keese Richardson.
Warren said he doesn't pay attention to depth charts but admitted that being a starter is significant.
"It means something but when the game gets going and people get shuffling in and out, you've really just got to take care of your job," the former Alcoa High School star said. "Just understand your role in the team. It's a team game.
"You might feel like you're better than the guy in front of you but in order for the team to be successful . . . the other guy might get the start on you. You've got to be patient and wait your turn and when it comes seize the moment."
Those opportunities might not come as frequently once UT's freshmen gain some seasoning.
"We've got a really good class, a lot of talent," Warren said. "They're still young but you can see a lot of promise in them.
"With the experience that they're going to get this year . . . they're going to get more comfortable and more confident. I think you're going to see a really good class in the near future."
As ballyhooed as UT's freshmen have been, there's still the challenge of taking practice performances to the games. That can be easier said than done. And there's really little advice UT's upperclassmen can offer.
"They ask small questions here and there," Hardesty said of UT's freshmen. "You can tell them how it is but you're not going to know what to expect when it comes.
"I'm still going to be extra excited with butterflies (in my stomach) when it's game time. You can't really tell them what to expect. They have to go out there and see what it is."
Some have suggested that head coach Lane Kiffin is more apt to play freshmen to boost recruiting or that he'd like younger players to gain experience now so the Vols will be a better team later.
Regardless, by playing freshmen this Saturday, Kiffin has proved trustworthy for his players - young and veteran.
"He held true to that," Hardesty said, referring to Kiffin's early proclamation that the best will play regardless of class. "Some of the young guys showed they could play. If you can play, you're going to get on the field."
Dave Hooker covers Tennessee football.