Ben Bartholomew has had chances to show what he could do at Tennessee.
But it was an entirely different program the last time the junior was seeing any live action for the Vols.
Despite being a junior, until the fullback got a cameo appearance in the season opener this year he had never had an opportunity to audition in a game for Derek Dooley after injuries forced him to redshirt in 2010. But Bartholomew quickly parlayed that brief look into a battle for playing time, and just as suddenly he turned it into a starting job in the UT backfield for Saturday's 45-23 win over Cincinnati at Neyland Stadium.
"Injuries are very frustrating, and so I hadn't had an opportunity to really be out there on a team under Coach Dooley," Bartholomew said after the game. "So I was very blessed to do that and hope to keep doing that.
"The coaches told me it's going to be a competition, they put me in with the (first team) and gave me an opportunity to see what I could do. I performed this week and so I got the start."
Bartholomew didn't appear to do much that would cause him to lose his spot in the lineup, holding up as a blocker in the running game and adding a reception that picked up eight yards for the Vols (2-0) through the air.
He had an impressive catch-and-run that covered 18 yards in the win against Montana the week before, but that came late in the game with UT mostly trying to run out the clock with its backups.
It didn't seem to be a hint that a larger role could be coming for Bartholomew after a year on the sideline, particularly since sophomore Channing Fugate had started to entrench himself with six starts over the last seven games dating back to last season.
But Dooley shrugged off a question about whether Bartholomew's appearance might have been a product of a disciplinary measure for Fugate, stressing it was "Darwinism" and simply going with the guy who played the best last week in practice.
"He's doing a great job," UT running back Tauren Poole said. "Ben knows what he's doing, he's a smart guy, very intelligent, he tells me what to do most plays as well. He knows the offense, he's very familiar with it and he had some great blocks out there.
"A lot of runs that we busted were because of Bart's blocking, and we need him."
Bartholomew's emergence also provides some valuable depth at fullback, a position that at one time looked as if it could be wiped out with an injury to Fugate.
Now the Vols have some added flexibility in the backfield, and they also appear to have a heated battle for playing time on their hands.
"I was a little bit surprised (about the start)," Bartholomew said. "I think it will definitely be a weekly competition, always be a competition, and that's the only way we can push ourselves to be the best we can be.
"We're (all) working as hard as we can to get better. We still made a lot of mistakes (Saturday) that we want to capitalize on, so we're going to keep watching film, keep getting the running game better."
Poll Position: Another dominant performance caught a few more eyes.
One more like it, particularly in a hostile environment against a division rival, and UT almost certainly would crack the national rankings.
As it is, the Vols made some headway after piling up yardage and points in a 45-23 win on Saturday at Neyland Stadium against Cincinnati.
UT is just outside the top 25 in both major polls released on Sunday afternoon, but the number of votes went up in each of them — including a big jump in the coaches poll.
After two weeks of games, the Vols earned 13 voter points in the AP poll as voted on by the media. That amount would be good for 35th in the nation if it went that far.
In the USA Today poll, UT was credited with 21 points, which would put them at No. 32.
Bumps And Bruises: UT doesn't look like it will have its depth on the offensive line put to the test at the start of Saturday's critical visit to No. 16 Florida.
Despite getting a scare midway through the second half against Cincinnati when left tackle Dallas Thomas went down with a knee injury, the junior is expected to play against the Gators after he officially diagnosed with a mild sprain.
Without him for the final quarter against the Bearcats, the Vols
moved guard Alex Bullard out to tackle and brought Marcus Jackson in to fill the spot left on the interior.
"We start getting a little nervous now if Dallas gets out at tackle," Dooley said after the game.