Since Butch Jones' hiring in December, twelve football players walked across the stage as graduating seniors; 10 of whom saw substantial action in 2012.
Another four declared early for the NFL draft, while five more significant contributors are no longer with the program. Tack on a bevy of offseason injuries and it goes without saying that the Volunteers' first-year head coach has quite a challenge ahead of him in his inaugural season at Tennessee.
While some of those holes have been filled internally, an abundance of true and redshirt freshmen have been asked to make a direct impact on the field, something Jones has been extremely adamant about since his arrival.
"(The freshmen) have no choice. They're playing," Jones said earlier this month.
Jones added "anywhere between 13 to 16 freshmen" would see the field in 2013, a number most coaching staffs would like to see considerably lower. However, the UT assistants feel this specific group of newcomers have progressed well through fall camp and are ready to immediately step into prominent roles.
"(The freshmen) are going to be challenged -- we all know that -- right off the get-go," defensive backs coach Willie Martinez said. "But if you're a player, you'll thrive in the moment, and the young guys that have been playing for us through camp have done a nice job."
"The freshmen being able to get so many snaps and learn the offense quickly, that's been positive," wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni said. "All this experience is going to be huge."
Of all the first year players, cornerback Cameron Sutton will have the best opportunity to remain a full-time contributor as the Jonesboro, Ga., native is slated to start the season opener Saturday against Austin Peay.
"We're real pleased with the way (Sutton's) progressed," defensive coordinator John Jancek said. "As a freshman he still makes freshman mistakes, but he doesn't get rattled. He's really responded in the right way."
"(It's impressive) how consistently he is at staying calm," Martinez said of Sutton. "When things don't go right, he keeps plugging away. (He's) a lot more mature than a normal freshman."
If Sutton struggles, however, an extensive group of rookies will be anxiously awaiting to take over, highlighted by freshmen corners Malik Foreman and Devaun Swafford.
"Malik and Devaun are getting the same amount of reps that Cam is getting," Martinez said.
While new faces will be abundant in the UT defensive backfield throughout 2013, the most highly anticipated career debuts will undoubtedly occur on the other side of the ball, particularly at wide receiver. The Volunteers lost over 77 percent of their receiving yards and touchdowns from a year ago, so naturally, much will be asked of the six freshmen receivers on the current roster.
"What we talked about in our press conference at the beginning of training camp is that (wide receiver) is one of those positions that true freshmen are going to have to play," Jones said. "Each of the freshman are developing at their own speed and their own pace, and we've tried to really accelerate that process.
"When it's all said and done, they're all going to have to play."
Four-star prospect Marquez North has seemingly pulled away from the rest of the pack, garnering a handful of first-team reps during the course of fall camp. At 6-4, 215 pounds, North's size gives him the potential to be a vital part of the Volunteer passing attack.
"I've challenged him. He's a big receiver. He needs to play like a big receiver," Azzanni said of North. "He's a very coachable young man. He's a very prideful young man, and that's why he's going to be a good player here."
Local talent Josh Smith and Atlanta-area native Jason Croom appear to be just a shade behind North but have positioned themselves to see the field quite often.
"I want to build competition all year," Azzanni said. "I want to build competition every week in practice and one-on-ones."
Although some form of hierarchy has begun to develop, Azzanni said the pecking order could drastically change at any point during the season.
"We're so young and inexperienced. (The evaluation process) will be day-to-day. It really will," Azzanni said. "If you have a good practice on Tuesday -- you come out and you bust your tail -- you might jump somebody.
"There's nobody that's said 'this is my spot' yet, and that's just what it is."
In addition to wide receiver, the quarterback position could possibly see freshmen contributions as the season progresses. Although Jones named junior Justin Worley his starter on Monday, redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman as well as first-year hopefuls Riley Ferguson and Joshua Dobbs are waiting in the wings should Worley undergo early-season struggles.