KNOXVILLE -- This spring, Stephaun Raines picked a great time to start producing.
This preseason camp, however, the University of Tennessee sophomore defensive back from Dalton (Ga.) High School picked a bad time to pull a hamstring.
Raines, back at cornerback after sharing first-team safety reps in spring, tweaked the hamstring in the opening minutes of the Volunteers' first major preseason scrimmage.
Saturday -- a full three weeks later -- he finally got back to full speed.
Promising true freshmen have rocketed up the depth chart, and Raines almost certainly lacks sufficient time to re-earn defensive snaps in Saturday's season-opener against Western Kentucky.
"I'm not really worried about the depth chart, as of right now," Raines said. "I know how my work ethic is, and I know I'm going to come out here every day and compete for my job. Whoever has the spot right now, that's good for them, but I'm going to be battling for it all year until I get it.
"The only frustrating thing is the injury. Getting in there for the first preseason game and then just having to watch the second and third preseason games, it's just hard to watch everybody else out there when you're sitting there helpless."
Raines, listed a 5-foot-10, 179 pounds, is probably better physically-suited to play cornerback. But defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin was intrigued by the former Catamounts' speed at the safety position, so he played there in spring and enjoyed some success.
Coaches opted to swap Raines and junior Dennis Rogan this summer, though.
"They wanted more speed at corner and more experience at the safety position," Raines said. "I feel good, either way. I learned the safety position this spring, so anytime, I feel like I could go back and do that. And corner, I'm working there now, so I can really do both.
"I'm just trying to be versatile right now. ... Anything that can help me get out there on the field and help the team."
That won't be an easy task at either spot. Coaches have been understandably enamored with a quartet of first-year defensive backs -- safeties Janzen Jackson and Darren Myles Jr., and cornerbacks Mike Edwards and Eric Gordon.
"These coaches have always said they're going to treat everybody equally, and treat everybody like professionals," Raines said. "I think they'll play whoever earns it out there on the practice field every week, so now that I''m healthy again, I've just got to go out there and keep working."
Kiffin continued his hot-and-cold feelings for junior wide receiver Brandon Warren, a converted tight end from the Knoxville area whose consistency hasn't matched his athleticism since transferring home from Florida State.
Freshman Nu'Keese Richardson was listed above Warren on Friday night's depth chart.
Kiffin has stayed on Warren's case since this winter, turning his attention recently to the receiver's dropped passes and time away from practice with nagging injuries.
"Brandon continues to have his ups and downs," Kiffin said. "One day we get excited, and the next day he disappoints you. We'll continue through the week, and he could be anywhere from starting -- a week from today he could be starting -- to not having a significant role and playing very much.
"That doesn't mean anything, what somebody's done before. I just know since he's been here he's shown flashes, had some really good days, and had some days that weren't as good. Hopefully, this week he'll have a really good week so we can get him some balls in the opener."