Marsalis Teague is coming to the defense of Tennessee football coach Lane Kiffin.
Teague, a 5-foot-10, 180-pound athlete from Henry County High School in Paris, Tenn., will begin summer classes and workouts at UT today.
Teague said he's paid attention to the criticism Kiffin has received for his brash behavior and verbal jabs toward several SEC coaches.
Teague believes the criticism is unwarranted.
"Some people say he needs to watch it," Teague said, "but coming from a player's perspective, I think we actually like that when your head coach is ready to defend you or do whatever for you. I'm ready to get out there and try to help defend him."
So are Teague's future teammates. Teague said he's spoken to many of UT's 2009 signees about backing up Kiffin's confident talk.
"That's all we talk about," Teague said. " 'Let's go out there and let's get this national championship. Let's put Tennessee back on.'
"The confidence the coaches have just trickles down to us. If everybody gives the coach a bad rep we're going to be quick to try to defend him."
Teague has started working to earn playing time this fall. He will likely begin playing slot receiver but could factor in on defense if that's where he's needed.
Teague said he appreciates UT's coaching staff giving the newcomers an opportunity to earn early playing time.
"If you're thrown into the mix you can kind of see how long you can adjust or stay at the top versus having to start at the bottom and work your way up," he said.
One of Teague's chief competitors for early playing time on offense will be Nu'Keese Richardson, a 5-foot-10, 180-pound receiver from Pahokee (Fla.) High School.
Richardson, who also will begin classes at UT today, said he and Teague will make each other better.
"Every day you've got to be on top of your game," Richardson said. "Honestly, it feels good to know I have somebody else pushing me and making me better. I'm also pushing them."
UT's 2009 class hopes to help push Tennessee back to the top of the SEC.
Teague recalled the message he heard from Kiffin and recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron during the recruiting process.
"They were talking about trying to start over and clean the slate and get Tennessee back up to where it needs to be," Teague said. "With us being their first recruiting class, we would kind of be the cornerstone."
Josh Ward is a freelance contributor.