For six weeks last fall, quarterback Justin Worley played the what-if game.
Would he play? Would he not?
"Each week, they never told me I would definitely be a redshirt or definitely play,'' Worley said Saturday, reviewing his freshman season at Tennessee.
It's a mind game legions of athletes straight out of high school play across the country each fall. Will they play? Will they redshirt?
In the final days leading up to UT's 2012 season-opener, a number of freshmen are pondering the same thing. For some, the answer will come on Aug. 31 in the Georgia Dome.
For others, it will linger like it did with Worley.
Finally, in the waning moments of a 37-6 lost cause at Alabama on Oct. 22, Worley was told to get his helmet and warm up.
He trotted on the field at Bryant-Denny Stadium and handed off a few times. Welcome to college football.
The next week, he started against South Carolina. He started again against MTSU and Arkansas before Tyler Bray returned from an injury.
"Granted, we went 1-2 when I started,'' Worley said, "but playing against another team and not just our defense in practice helped my confidence a lot.''
Redshirt decisions on the 2012 freshmen will be made ultimately by coach Derek Dooley.
He hasn't had the luxury of redshirting many freshmen in his two seasons at UT. A bare-bones roster wouldn't allow it.
"You play better as a sophomore if you played as a freshman,'' Dooley said Saturday. "Even if you stunk as a freshman.''
Worley agreed: "Just the fact that I know I can go out there and run the offense.''
Tennessee played 16 true freshmen last year. Six redshirted. The numbers reflect in large part the lack of veteran talent Dooley inherited in 2010.
By comparison, only five true freshmen played on UT's star-studded 1999 team, one year after the national championship.
The numbers also reflect a trend. The tendency now is to use talent before it leaves early for the NFL. In 1988, Tennessee redshirted freshmen Chuck Webb and Carl Pickens. That would never happen today.
Offensive lineman Marcus Jackson played in all 12 games last year, as did classmate Antonio Richardson.
Jackson knew a redshirt was off the table when he was lining up with the No. 1 line in the spring after his early enrollment.
"I would not say redshirting is a bad thing,'' Jackson said, "but there's nothing like experience either.
"In a sense, I'm glad I played. But I missed having time to develop. I had to develop on the fly.''
Mack Crowder, Alan Posey and Kyler Kerbyson were informed by offensive line coach Harry Hiestand before the first game they would redshirt — barring emergency.
"We were still getting ready each week just like the ones,'' Crowder said, "but I'm very happy I didn't play.
"Especially in the SEC, it takes you a while to get the size and strength you need to play.''
Defensive line recruits Jordan Williams and Trevarris Saulsberry came to UT from Gainesville (Fla.) High School. Saulsberry watched as Williams was sent into action, but his own call never came.
"They realized I wasn't ready to compete,'' Saulsberry said. "I was kind of upset at first. I called my dad and he told me it was a year to develop.
"Now I'm definitely glad I didn't waste a year of eligibility. It's a win-lose situation, but you see the positives more than the negatives.''
Dooley and his staff have to weigh the positives and the negatives, week by week, over the course of the next few months.
The depth chart isn't as lean as it was. But the Vols still need help.
"They have the right height, weight and speed criteria that we're looking for,'' Dooley said.
"Now, can we develop them?''