KNOXVILLE - Several prominent questions swirled around Bryce Brown's recruiting process, but not about his football ability.
His eligibility seems secure now, too.
Now that one of the nation's highest-rated freshman prospects has been ruled immediately NCAA-eligible, the focus has shifted back on the field, to his highly anticipated debut Saturday afternoon against Western Kentucky.
If preseason camp was any indication, Brown's immediate splash will come courtesy of a cannonball. He's been bracketed with senior Montario Hardesty atop the tailback depth chart.
"You know ... I just ... I don't want to jinx it, but he's the best-looking running back we've had since Jamal (Lewis)," one longtime UT athletic department employee said two weeks ago.
Brown, a 6-foot, 215-pounder from Wichita, Kan., spoke with The Times Free Press last Saturday afternoon about several topics.
Q: How have you adjusted to the speed of the college game? It looks like you're starting to get it.
BROWN: "Everything has kept slowing down, it feels like. I'm noticing more things now. ... My body's just beat up."
Q: How comfortable are you with Lane Kiffin's offense?
BROWN: "I feel comfortable, really comfortable. I'm not saying I'm going to go in there in a game and not make mistakes. I'm sure I'm going to make some mistakes, but I've been getting my reps and studying my playbook."
Q: Did your good news from the NCAA make (last) week a special one?
BROWN: "It (was) like a normal camp week, honestly. The coaches always told me just not to worry about it. I came to practice every day and worked as if I didn't know this thing was going on.
"Obviously, me being 18 years old and having that burden on my back, I'm going to think about it a little bit. But I just put my trust in all my coaches, and they came through for me. I also just trusted in the Lord - for anyone who doesn't know me, I'm a faithful guy, and I'm a big believer - but I always felt good about it."
Q: But surely the news brought you some sense of relief, right?
BROWN: "I mean ... yeah. Hearing it's a three- or four-game suspension, and then hearing that that's not going to be the case, I mean, yeah, that's a relief. But I wasn't really worried about it. I was just worried about Western Kentucky."
Q: What were your initial thoughts on being bracketed with Hardesty atop the depth chart?
BROWN: "I didn't even know about that until you just said that."
Q: Well ... in that case ... here's some good news. You're bracketed with Hardesty atop the depth chart. What are your thoughts on that?
BROWN: "Wow, that's nice (laughter). But like I've always said, Montario's a great back. I prayed about where I would be at, and I felt like I would be second on the depth chart. Montario's great, he's talented, and he's been here for a long time, and he's somebody that I feel like if I watch him, my game will be better. He's a leader, he works hard every day, and I think he'll be great at the next level."
Q: Well, since you didn't know your position on the depth chart, this is probably new to you, as well. There are true freshmen all over the depth chart, especially on offense and in the secondary. Did you always believe these coaches when they told you freshmen would get equal chances to earn starting positions?
BROWN: "I never doubted the coaches at all when they said they were going to come in here and give us an opportunity. You can look in the coaching staff's eyes, especially Coach Kiffin's eyes, and believe that that's what they're about. It wasn't a surprise at all.
"The first day of camp, I was running with the 1s. He said I would have an opportunity, and I've had that opportunity. He's already showed he's a man of his word."
Q: Lastly, how's your hip? You've clearly experienced some discomfort there lately.
BROWN: "It's just a little thing. It's nothing serious. I'm good to go."
Read Thursday's Times Free Press for more UT coverage. Another contact for Wes Rucker is www.twitter.com/wesrucker.