KNOXVILLE — Butch Jones may have inflated the number of freshmen Tennessee will play in Sunday night's season opener for effect.
Or the Volunteers' second-year coach may have provided an accurate number when he said following Wednesday's practice that "upwards of 28" newcomers will see the field against Utah State.
However you want to analyze Jones's math skills, the number is fairly gaudy.
"We've reviewed the roster," Jones said. "It mean special teams, all over. Will 28 play? I can't answer that right now. There could be as many as 28 that actually play Sunday."
There were 19 newcomers, including a quartet of junior college transfers, on the two-deep depth chart Tennessee released on Monday, and there will be others that weren't on it -- linebacker Elliott Berry, most notably -- that certainly will play against the Aggies.
Jones, who conceded his number included walk-ons, appears to have a sense of confidence in Tennessee's youth.
"The thing I like is we have a fresh football team," Jones said. "They don't have past experiences in mind. They came here to win football games. They came here to be a part of a great turnaround and get Tennessee football back to its rightful place, and it's going to be a journey.
"They came here to venture on a journey and be a special group because they're going to be the ones that laid the foundation for future successes."
It's entirely possible Utah State may have the best player in Sunday night's game on its side, assuming quarterback Chuckie Keeton doesn't show much rust from the serious knee injury he suffered last October.
The Vols are certainly aware of Keeton's talents as a passer and a runner.
"He can make something out of nothing," said Vols defensive tackle Jordan Williams, who said Keeton reminded him of Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. "He's a real explosive guy. We're going to get after him."
Safety Brian Randolph believes Tennessee is "better equipped" to face mobile quarterbacks, who victimized the Vols constantly in 2013, thanks to a quicker defensive line.
"He's a very good athlete [that] makes plays on his feet and throwing the ball downfield as well," defensive end/linebacker Curt Maggitt said. "It's going to start up front. We're going to have to keep our quarterback points and challenge him."
Tennessee put freshman defensive back Evan Berry, who will share the Vols' kickoff return duties with Devrin Young, at scout-team quarterback to simulate Keeton's running ability and mixed quarterback Josh Dobbs in there, too.
"[Berry] pretty much ran most of the time," Randolph said, "and we put Dobbs in there to throw a little bit, too."
Joking with Jalen
Linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin said elder teammates Maggitt and A.J. Johnson were giving him grief about being a defensive starter going into this season after the sophomore starred on special teams last season.
"They were telling me, 'Don't choke,' and, 'Don't fold,'" Reeves-Maybin said. "They were just joking with me. They know I'll be able to take care of it."
Jones called Reeves-Maybin "one of our best players on special teams" last season and exuded confidence in Reeves-Maybin being able to handle his expanded role.
"He gained tremendous confidence last year because he excelled on special teams," Jones said. "His role has even grown in terms of now he's a starter on defense as well. That's how you develop players, and special teams are absolutely critical."
Reeves-Maybin admitted transitioning to defense was "difficult" for him as a freshman.
" I kind of struggled with all that, but after the spring I was able to get into it and understand it a lot more," he said. "It was a whole new level, new athletes, faster guys, bigger guys. Dealing with that skill level and dealing with the mental game was a lot different."
Buzz on Barnett
On the list of most anticipated debuts for players from Tennessee's 2014 recruiting class, freshman defensive end Derek Barnett's name is fairly high.
"I could see him being a little nervous, but he's light years ahead of where I was," Williams said. "He knows the defense, knows the call and got some pretty good football intelligence. I feel like he'll be fine out there as long as he keeps his head."
Barnett starred throughout Tennessee's training camp and should help the Vols' new-look defensive front.
"A.J. actually brought it to my attention. We were at our apartment, and he was like, 'Barnett, that joker can play.'" Maggitt said. "I opened my eyes the next day watching film, and he was doing a lot of things just naturally, some things that older guys aren't doing. I know he's going to help us a lot.
"He's got a knack of getting to the ball and natural pass-rushing ability."
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...