Malik Jackson had a different take than most when he scanned Tennessee's first game-week depth chart of the 2011 season.
The senior defensive tackle didn't see that 14 of the 23 spots reserved for offensive and defensive players were occupied by underclassmen. He didn't notice that nine of the players listed had never started a college game. And he certainly didn't have the time to crunch the numbers to discover that two-thirds of the entire two-deep depth chart was composed of freshmen and sophomores.
Age and rank, for one of the few experienced veterans on UT's entire roster, were nothing more than numbers and titles.
"You see that if they're there, then that means they have to have a lot of talent, and you know they know what they're doing," Jackson said after Monday's practice. "When I look at the depth chart, I don't 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 him (as) the best guy at that position.
"They beat them out, so we've just got to go out there and play with them."
In most cases, those underclassmen were beating out other underclassmen for their positions, but at this point in the preseason, that's beside the point. Ever since coach Derek Dooley dubbed 2011 as "Year One" of his quest to rebuild and rejuvenate the program, the Vols have been well aware of their overabundance of youth and lack of experience.
An official depth chart did nothing but reinforce the challenge.
"We can't make any excuses," senior running back Tauren Poole said. "We have a young football team with a small senior class. We're going to make it what it is. We're going to make it worth it and play as hard as we can."
The Vols' starting defense is a mixed bag, with three seniors and a combined five upperclassmen occupying nearly half of the 11 spots. Half of the remaining six, though, are filled with true freshmen, as Curt Maggitt will start at strongside linebacker, A.J. Johnson will start at weakside linebacker and Justin Coleman will line up at left cornerback.
Tack on defensive tackle Daniel Hood, who was formerly an offensive tackle, and four of UT's 11 starting defenders will be making their college debut at their respective positions as starters Saturday (TV: PPV, 6 p.m.) against Montana.
Though there are no true freshmen to be found, eight of the 12 starting spots on offense — UT accounted for both a slot wide receiver and a fullback — will be occupied by sophomores. Because UT didn't just become young overnight, many of those sophomores come into 2011 with plenty of experience, as six of the eight saw the field in at least 12 games last season and combine for 38 starts.
Fifteen of Dooley's 28-man, 2011 signing class have spots on the two-deep depth chart.
Dooley bristled at the notion of having a pre-planned strategy for implementing the newcomers throughout Saturday's game.
"Our objective's to win the game, so I'm not going to go out there like it's a preseason game and evaluate guys," Dooley said. "We're going to go out there to try to win the football game. If that means playing a lot of guys, we'll do it. And if it doesn't, then we won't."
Back In Action: The long weekend did some good for a number of injured Vols.
Running back Tom Smith (knee) and wide receiver Zach Rogers (triceps) swapped the red, non-contact jerseys they had been wearing for the past week for normal ones Monday, indicating that both players are close to full strength. Rogers' absence did not hurt his standing among UT's wide receivers, as he was listed as a starter in the slot.
After sitting out most of last week, wide receiver Matt Milton and Rajion Neal (knee) were back with the team and wore red, non-contact jerseys.
Neal's role with the offense remains in flux, as UT had been experimented with him in a hybrid running back-wide receiver position.
"It's going to be limited because we haven't been able to work him much," Dooley said. "We'll just kind of take it day-to-day, and his role may expand this week, depending on how his knee is."
Final Thought: Dooley used another one of his trademark analogies to motivate his players heading into their first game week of the season.
"A lot of new guys. Got to teach them what it means to prepare," Dooley said. "I equated it to every day you're depositing money in your bank account — every day. The investment that you put in physically, the investment you put in mentally is a deposit.
"On game day, you withdraw it all. So, the more you deposit during the week, the more money you're going to have on game day to play well.
"Today we put a pretty good deposit in and we'll see if we can keep it going all week."