KNOXVILLE -- Player turnover is an inevitable byproduct of college football coaching changes.
Unfortunately for Tennessee, it looks like the latest coaching change will cost the Volunteers two of the nation's most productive freshmen.
Aaron Douglas, a Freshman All-America offensive tackle who solidified the Vols' front five last season, met with new coach Derek Dooley on Thursday and said he was leaving the program.
Douglas, a former Maryville High School standout whose father, David Douglas, starred at Rhea County before playing for Tennessee, has been dealing with "personal issues," Dooley said, that no one has specified on the record. And he was disappointed by the departures of former head coach Lane Kiffin and offensive line coach James Cregg.
"Aaron Douglas has decided that he's no longer a part of our football team," Dooley said after Thursday's practice inside the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center. "It's unfortunate that we never got a chance to coach him. But as I've told you guys and I've told the team, our concern is not who or what we don't have; it's who we have. We have 84 guys who are excited about our program.
"We're shaping a new culture here, and as we do that, it's a process."
Tailback Bryce Brown, the former No. 1 high school prospect in the country whose status with the Vols remains in limbo, watched Thursday's practice from the sideline.
Dooley said he didn't see Brown and is not aware of any new developments with his situation. The two met hours before UT's first spring practice last week, and Brown told the coach he might leave the program.
"I have not had any more discussions with Bryce," the coach said. "I never saw Bryce (today), so I can't speak to that. I was out there coaching the guys. I didn't even know he was here."
Some steps in that process sure seem like a step back. And Thursday sure seemed like one of those days.
Staff Photo by Angela Lewis UT's Aaron Douglas, 78, announced Thursday, March 25 2009, that he's leaving the UT football program
"Honestly, so much has happened since I've been here that nothing surprises me anymore," wide receiver Gerald Jones said. "I don't know what you could tell me at this point that would make me go, 'Wow, that's crazy.' Probably nothing, honestly."
If Dooley was fazed in any way, he didn't show it.
"We're planting grass, not pulling weeds," Dooley said. "We're building for the future. We're putting seeds down. We're going to have a great field soon, and I'm not going to concern myself with pulling weeds, because then nothing happens and there's no growth."
Dooley said his Thursday meeting with Douglas "had to happen at some point." While he claimed disappointment with the player's decision, he said he couldn't control it and was ready to move forward.
"Certainly, we're always going to support our players when they're having problems, but there's also a responsibility that every player has to the team," Dooley said. "And it had reached that point where we really needed to sit down and decide which way we were headed here. And (Douglas) no longer wants to be part of the program.
"He asked for his release and, with certain conditions, we'll allow him to go to some other places."
Dooley didn't specify on those conditions, except to say he "obviously" wouldn't release the lineman to any team on UT's future schedule.
Youngsters JerQuari Schofield and Dallas Thomas have been the first-team right and left tackles this spring, but Dooley said that depth chart remains a fluid situation.
Several players, including defensive end Gerald Williams on Thursday, have praised the ability of January enrollee Ja'Wuan James -- a highly touted, 6-foot-7 lineman from the Atlanta area.
"Ja'Wuan is a very natural talent," Williams said. "I like him a lot. Ja'Wuan is very natural. I see a whole lot of potential in him."
Thomas didn't sound much like a player willing to let James take his spot, though.
"We're not going to be the weak link on the chain. We're not going to be the weak link on this team, period," Thomas said. "We're going to dominate. That's how we look at it. We're coming hard every day."
Daniel Hood, a former Knoxville Catholic player who will be a redshirt freshman center next season, agreed with Thomas.
"OK, we obviously don't have a lot of depth, but we still go to work every day, and we're not going to stop," Hood said. "We think we can be the best offensive line in the SEC. That's always our goal. We're Tennessee."
Dooley said he'd gladly go to work every day with "the guys who want to be here."
And since Douglas was never a part of the Dooley era, the coach said the departure "doesn't do anything to me."
"I've never seen Aaron even jump over a bag," Dooley added. "There's been no change, as far as what we're coaching and the personnel decisions we've been making."
Dooley didn't deny that UT's short-term situation at offensive line was less than ideal, with all five of last season's starters gone, but he remained positive about it.
"It takes time," Dooley said. "We've got a lot of new faces, so we've got to do a good job as coaches. We're throwing a lot at them now, and we're doing it on purpose. I feel like we have some good young talent in the program, and we've signed some good talent, so I've got no worries about the future. But certainly, in the short term, it's not a good situation when you don't have anybody back."
The Vols return to practice Saturday afternoon.
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