Every year, incoming freshmen are among the most talked about players heading into the season.

This has been no different this year with Tennessee, especially considering how few upperclassmen UT has on its roster.

 “I think we’re going to need (freshmen) at just about every position,” coach Derek Dooley said. “If not from a starter, from a role guy, from a spell guy and from a guy who can go out there and push the guy ahead of them to be better. It’s hard to say you’re not going to need them in some capacity.”

Based on the depth chart for the season opener against Montana, the Volunteers will be using freshmen early and often. Fourteen true freshmen are listed in the team’s two-deep, including three starters on defense: linebackers Curt Maggitt and A. J. Johnson and cornerback Justin Coleman.

Maggitt and Johnson garnered praises throughout fall camp after showing up looking physically ready to play in the SEC.

“They’re doing really well, picking it up real well as quick as they have has been impressive,” defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said. “(Linebackers coach) Peter Sirmon has done an awesome job working with those guys. When they step onto the field, they don’t act like freshmen. It’s a good thing because when you play the teams we’re going to play, they could care less if you’re a freshman or a senior. Getting them acclimated quickly has been a huge thing for us and we’ll continue to expect those guys to grow throughout fall (camp) and through the season.”

 Senior Austin Johnson is the starter at middle linebacker and his veteran presence has helped the two freshmen ’backers on each side of him adjust to the college game so quickly.

“You see these two guys play, they don’t act like freshmen and they don’t play like freshmen,” he said. “They’re going to come out here and show people what they have and I’m excited to see what they’re going to bring.”

Still, the two will make their fair share of mistakes as freshmen.

“Despite what guys on our staff think, I’m not ready to anoint them as Lawrence Taylor,” Dooley said.

Coleman, who enrolled at UT in January and participated in spring practice, was locked in a battle with junior Marsalis Teague for the second cornerback spot before Janzen Jackson’s dismissal last week. With Prentiss Waggner moving back to free safety to fill Jackson’s void, Coleman now moves into a starter’s role.

“Justin has done well,” Dooley said. “He’s made progress. He’s not near where he needs to be to be a good, dependable starter in this league, but the only thing that is going to get him there is time and experience. We have confidence in him, but he’s going to have some growing pains out there. He’s been doing good.”

On the other side of the ball, a handful of freshmen have turned some heads, starting with Marlin Lane.

The tailback has worked his way up to No. 2 on the depth chart and is also in the mix to return punts.

“I think Marlin has a calm about him that most freshmen don’t have,” Dooley said.

Senior tailback Tauren Poole said Lane has shown “a lot of maturity” for a freshmen and the hype surrounding him is “deserved.”

“He’s a very humble guy,” Poole said. “He just wants to compete. He’s a very competitive guy. I see a lot of myself in him and he’s only a freshman, so he’s going to be great for this program in the years to come.”

At receiver, early enrollee Vincent Dallas and DeAnthony Arnett have worked their way into the two-deep for the first game. While the two don’t bring the size Da’Rick Rogers, Justin Hunter and Matt Milton did last year, Dallas and Arnett are more shifty and elusive receivers who are expected to play in the slot this year.

“Vincent and DeAnthony, they were there all summer and they look real good,” Da’Rick Rogers said. “They are showing a lot of promise for us.”

Two other potential freshmen pass-catchers are tight ends Brendan Downs and Cameron Clear.

Like Coleman and Dallas, Downs arrived at UT in January and was the team’s No. 2 tight end coming out of spring practice. Both he and Clear are listed in the team’s two-deep, which isn’t surprising given how much two and three tight end sets Dooley and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney prefer to use.

“They’re either going to help us or hurt us. They’re going to do something,” Dooley said. “They’re going to have to play because we don’t have anybody else.”

Fortunately for the Vols, they have depth at other positions, allowing some freshmen to develop more and not be counted on as much as Downs and Clear.

Other true freshmen listed in UT’s two-deep or who could see significant snaps this year include running backs Tom Smith and Devrin Young, offensive linemen Antonio Richardson and Marcus Jackson and safety Brian Randolph.