One way to think is that Jonathan Crompton and Nick Stephens both played so well that coaches couldn't pick Crompton until early last week. Another way to think is that neither separated himself and proved the job was unquestionably his. Answers will emerge soon.
Freshmen Bryce Brown and David Oku lived up to their immense billing in preseason camp, and sophomore Tauren Poole showed big flashes, but senior Montario Hardesty still looks like the starter. At any rate, several will play, and they'll have a good pair of fullbacks to run behind in Austin Johnson and Chattanooga's Kevin Cooper.
Injuries ravaged this position, leaving little room for interpretation on this stock report. But better consistency from junior Brandon Warren would have helped. Kudos to talented freshmen Nu'Keese Richardson, Marsalis Teague and Zach Rogers for consistently great effort, but it's hard to see them being models of consistent results this season. UT needs juniors Gerald Jones (high ankle sprain) and Denarius Moore (fractured foot) back soon.
Former walk-on Cody Sullins filled in solidly for fellow senior Josh McNeil (knee) in camp, but will success translate to the season? McNeil was widely considered too light to hold up in the SEC, but Sullins is even smaller at 6-foot-1, 260 pounds. Right tackle is a potential problem, too, as junior Jarrod Shaw failed to separate himself from redshirt freshman Aaron Douglas. Left tackle Chris Scott and guards Vladimir Richard and Jacques McClendon were solid.
Senior Wes Brown's recurring knee problems seem problematic for the tackle rotation, but the Vols are still probably better than most thing along the defensive front. End Gerald Williams was the team's most improved player since spring practice, winning a starting job over fellow junior Ben Martin. End Chris Walker and tackle Dan Williams figure to lead this group, but mammoth redshirt freshman Montori Hughes is a star in the making.
Senior All-SEC weaksider Rico McCoy is this group's only player with significant Saturday experience, and he missed much of camp with a knee injury. One of UT's traditional strengths for the past two decades is at best an early-season question mark, and at worse a gaping hole in an otherwise-solid defense.
This is, without question, the deepest spot on UT's roster. There is enough talent on the Vols' back end to give quarterbacks fits, led of course by All-American safety Eric Berry.
One of camp's biggest bright spots was the bounce-back efforts of kicker Daniel Lincoln and punter Chad Cunningham, who were solid nearly every day. Youth could be served in the return game, which would give most coaches ulcers but doesn't seem to faze UT's first-year staff.
This stock could plummet at any point, but a team that finished 5-7 last season is brimming with confidence, and it's citing the new coaching staff as the primary source. Every job was re-opened for competition, and first-year players could be all over the field. For better or worse, when was the last time so many college football fans from coast to coast heard so much about UT?