Of the two-deep depth chart heading into the week of the opening game, Kentucky listed 14 freshmen.
"We've got to play the best players that are going to give us the best chance to win," UK Coach Joker Phillips said Monday. "Some of these freshmen are talented enough and mature enough."
Phillips noted that most of the freshmen on UK's two-deep depth chart are not linemen. He suggested that freshmen contending for playing time at other positions is not unusual.
"You see skill (players as freshmen) playing every week," he said.
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Phillips said UK's offensive and defense schemes will enhance the freshmen's chance to succeed.
The two-deep depth chart distributed to reporters Monday listed only one freshman starter: D.J. Warren at fullback. A native of Alcoa, Tenn., he was named Tennessee's Mr. Football for Class AA as a senior.
Freshmen listed as second-stringers were left tackle Darrian Miller, right tackle Teven Eatmon-Nared, wide receiver Demarco Robinson, quarterback Maxwell Smith, tailback Josh Clemons, defensive end Mike Douglas, linebackers Alvin Dupree and Malcolm McDuffen, safeties Miles Simpson and Ashely Lowery and cornerback Dale Trimble.
Two other freshmen are second stringers on special teams: Robinson at punt returner and Kelly Mason at long snapper.
"We wouldn't have signed them if we didn't expect those guys to come in here and help us," Phillips said. "That's just being honest. We expect every time we go out and recruit a class that we've got to get better than we have every year.
"I'll tell these freshmen that just walked on campus, 'We've got to get better than you for us to be successful and continue the growth of the program.'"
Phillips said left guard Stuart Hines had practiced well, but would probably back up Kevin Mitchell in the opener. Ditto for Matt Smith subbing for Jake Lanefski at center.
Free safety Taiedo Smith has not practiced but will make the trip to Nashville in hopes of playing, Phillips said.
With a freshman as Kentucky's backup quarterback, Phillips noted the importance of finding a chance to get Smith in the game against Western Kentucky.
"I would hate, four, five games, he's thrown in there with his first snaps having no experience," the UK coach said of Smith, who enrolled in UK during the spring semester and participated in spring drills. "We have to find an opportunity to get him some snaps."
Phillips said UK learned the value of getting the backup some experience two years ago when it threw a raw Morgan Newton in the fray when an injury sidelined Mike Hartline at South Carolina.
Western Kentucky running back Bobby Rainey said Monday that the circumstances surrounding the opening game excite the Hilltoppers.
"We're the only game at that time on television, so all eyes are on us," he said. " ... Everybody is excited about the whole thing — television, Titans stadium, big crowd. It's all exciting."