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Defensive coordinator John Jancek said the Volunteers have a lot of unknowns going into Sunday's season opener against Utah State. "We haven't seen these guys compete in this type of a venue."

KNOXVILLE - Perhaps no one is more eager to see Tennessee's many unknowns than the 10 members of the Volunteers' coaching staff.

That was clear during the assistant coaches' round of interviews after Thursday's practice.

"We have a lot of unknowns right now," defensive coordinator John Jancek said. "We haven't seen these guys compete in this type of a venue. They're young. We don't know exactly how they're going to respond.

"So many of these guys, it's their first college football game, and we've got a lot of first-year players -- mostly freshmen, but some first-year junior college players, too. We don't know how they're going to react."

Offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian said last week he's more comfortable with the increased number of playmakers entering this season compared to 2013, but with that comes "probably more" unknowns than a season ago, he said.

"We're still dealing with a lot of new personnel," Bajakian added. "We're dealing with a new opponent, obviously. In particular, we're dealing with young personnel in the newcomers and the freshmen.

"There's still a lot of unknowns, and preparing for those unknowns, you can give them all kinds of scenarios, but it's hard to give them exactly what you're going to see."

The coaches have prepared the players for Sunday night for months, but their job certainly doesn't stop when the ball is kicked off at Neyland Stadium.

"We'll stick to the plan that we have in the game plan," Jancek said. "It's making sure, 'Hey, calm down,' taking them back and reteaching them the communication and keeping them settled and letting them play at the same time.

"We as coaches have got to do a good job of making sure that they know what they're facing each and every series, the changes that we may or may not want to make and get them prepared, each and every series."

More than 20 players are in line to make their college debuts on Sunday, and while Tennessee's coaches are confident those players should help the Vols' talent level, they're also eager to see how they look in a game.

"They're going to respond to us," Jancek said. "They're going to react to their coaches, which 18-, 19-, 20-year-old kids naturally would do We're going to be as always: We're going to be businesslike, we're going to be calm, we're going to coach and make sure the adjustments are communicated appropriately and keep teaching and coaching. That's all you can do."

Status updates

Tight end Alex Ellis now is questionable for Sunday's opener after missing Thursday's practice. The walk-on was walking around the practice field with a protective boot on his right foot. He was in line to play a role in the Vols' offense last season before an injury knocked out him of the lineup.

Defensive tackle Trevarris Saulsberry (knee), receiver Johnathon Johnson (ankle) and tailback Derrell Scott (foot) all missed practice and appear unlikely to play against Utah State.

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