KNOXVILLE -- A banged-up hip and uncertain NCAA eligibility situation limited freshman tailback Bryce Brown's scrimmage plays Saturday, but Tennessee's most heralded newcomer still had plenty of time to dazzle.
Brown had 28 yards in four carries, with most of his damage coming after first contact. His first carry netted just 6 yards, but the nation's top overall freshman prospect (according to several recruiting services) dragged multiple defenders two-thirds of that distance.
"Oh, gosh, is he a talented kid or what?" Volunteers offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said.
The NCAA has investigated Brown's highly scrutinized recruiting process for months, but UT head coach Lane Kiffin admitted this week that his star freshman's amateur eligibility is in question due to money donated for summer campus visits before his junior year of high school.
Several sources have said the NCAA will ask Brown to return funding for those trips and serve a small suspension -- perhaps one or two games. UT officials have said they will appeal any punishment deemed too harsh.
"Bryce is a very impressive young man," junior wide receiver Brandon Warren said. "He's got a great team with him, too, and we're going to support him through everything. We're with him. He's on our team, and we're going to be here for him.
"It's just great to see him turn off everything that's outside and just focus on what's going on in this stadium."
Brown also had to overcome a nagging hip injury that limited him all week.
"He felt about 85 percent," Kiffin said. "We talked to him right before (the scrimmage), and we went ahead and gave him a little bit of action."
Kiffin has declined mentioning specifics with Brown's eligibility situation, other than saying UT is "working with the NCAA."
Hardesty learns lesson
Senior starting tailback Montario Hardesty apologized profusely to coaches and teammates for his Saturday morning tardiness, accepting full responsibility for falling asleep before setting his alarm clock.
"It's the first meeting I've ever been late for in my life -- first time ever, man," Hardesty said. "That doesn't make it OK, though. I expect better from myself. I hate letting the team down like that."
Hardesty was given a one-day demotion to the second team, and he responded positively with 37 yards on six carries.
Big stadium, big steps
UT junior defensive end Chris Walker thought he and several starters were finished when coaches pulled them off the field before halftime Saturday.
Walker and the other starters -- including senior linemen Wes Brown, who is battling sore knees -- were told to run every aisle step on Neyland Stadium's south side.
"I didn't realize how big our stadium was until I had to run them," Walker said. "I wanted to play more instead of running those stairs. I'd have rather played 20 more plays."
Senior tackle Dan Williams had another surprisingly long day on the field, given his proven past at a depth-depleted position, but he didn't seem worried about it.
"I'm pretty tired, but I've just got to do whatever the coaches ask of me," Williams said. "I've just got to go out there every day and prove myself and prove to the coaches that I'm ready to play in this defense."
Asked if he'd question the coaches' decision to play him so many snaps, Williams laughed and offered a savvy veteran reply.
"To be honest with you, I don't ask any questions," he said. "I just do what the coaches tell me, and I just go out there and play."
Cooper catching on
Junior fullback Kevin Cooper from Chattanooga had 60 yards on two Saturday catches, and Kiffin continued complimenting the former Baylor School star on a solid preseason camp.
Kiffin admitted slight concerns over Cooper's noticeably smaller, tailback-looking frame, saying some of the player's weight loss wasn't intentional.
"He's a little bit lighter, so we've got to still stay with him physically," Kiffin said. "He looks better in the passing game, but we've still got to make sure that he's keeping his weight. He got sick at one point and lost about 10 pounds during camp, so we've got to continue to try to gain that weight back."
Centers of attention
Senior walk-on Cody Sullins continued to get at least as many first-team snaps as former starter Josh McNeil, and Kiffin hasn't sorted out the situation.
"It's too hard to evaluate a center from the sideline during a game," Kiffin said. "We'll go back and watch the film and figure it out. The timetable is when it shows itself. If it showed itself today, then we'll make a decision."
'I'm with you, boss'
Chaney and other coaches slated for press-box duties handled those responsibilities during the scrimmage, as Kiffin wanted everything the past two days to simulate a normal game weekend.
"I don't mind the field, but I've been up in the box so many years that's home to me," said Chaney, who coordinated several prolific Purdue offenses before spending the past four seasons with the NFL's St. Louis Rams. "I feel real comfortable up there. I think I can benefit and help coach better from up there than I can on the field."
Chaney, a happy-go-lucky personality off the field, initially joked about his press-box persona.
"I'm going to be right up there eating a hot dog, drinking a Diet Coke, just listening to Lane. 'Yeah, I'm with you, boss,'" Chaney said.