KNOXVILLE -- There's no reason to assume young tailback Bryce Brown wants to return to the University of Tennessee football program.
If he does desire to come back, though, his own decision won't be the only hurdle.
UT receiver Gerald Jones said he and the team's other rising seniors would have to meet and vote on whether to take back Brown, who has left the team for at least two weeks of spring practice.
Brown, who gained nearly 500 all-purpose yards last season as a highly touted freshman from Kansas, told first-year head coach Derek Dooley last week that he would skip spring practice while contemplating his future.
The former five-star prospect and No. 1 overall recruit in the country attended Thursday's practice in street clothes.
Brown has denied two requests from the Times Free Press to speak on the record about his situation, calling it a private, family matter. His teammates -- former teammates? -- have spoken, though.
"I haven't heard a lot of people talk about whether (Brown) wanted to come back or not," Jones said. "I'm pretty sure if he did tell somebody, we would all have to have a discussion -- especially the seniors, because this is our team."
Tennessee wide receiver Gerald Jones breaks away from a Kentucky defender after catching a pass during the first half of their NCAA college football game in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Nov. 28, 2009. (AP Photo/Ed Reinke)
That said, Jones said he thought Brown would win that vote and be allowed back on the team.
"I think everybody deserves a second chance, man," Jones said. "Nobody's perfect. Sometimes it gets hard. He's still a freshman, you know, so it's hard on him. (Former coach Lane) Kiffin was his guy, and he came out here for Kiffin. He's all the way from Kansas.
"For Kiffin to leave and for him to be so far away from his parents, it's hard, especially as a freshman. But if he wants to come back, I think this team would welcome him back with open arms. We understand that some of us were in the same position. We might not have made the same choice that he made, but we've been in the same position.
"If he wanted to come back, we would have him, hopefully. If not, then we wish him the best of luck wherever he goes."
Added David Oku, a tailback who enrolled with Brown last summer: "We miss him and wish he was still here, but a man's got to do what a man's got to do for himself and his family."
Dooley refused to speculate on how much longer Brown would be allowed to stay off the team and still contribute next season.
"Every situation is unique, and every situation is different," Dooley said. "I don't think there's a time frame, but there is a responsibility that you have to the team. And certainly this is the team's team. I have a lot of communication with our players, especially our seniors. If there's ever decisions on people coming back or leaving, I always involve them."
Jones didn't try sugar-coating the losses of two talented young offensive players.
Freshman All-America offensive tackle Aaron Douglas asked Dooley for a transfer release Thursday, and Dooley said he would comply with some restrictions -- specifically any team on UT's schedule the next three seasons.
"It hurts, man. We lost two really, really good players, especially Aaron Douglas," Jones said. "Bryce Brown did a wonderful job last year, too. It hurts to lose them, man. It really does, but the thing is, we lost a couple of coaches last year, too. We've just got to move on. We would love to have those guys on the team, but unfortunately we don't, so we've just got to keep moving.
"I do think it brings the team together. Even the coaching changes brought the team together. When we're on the field, it's each other that we're playing for. We've got each other's backs. It stinks to not have them, but we'll be all right without them."
Jones added that Brown and Douglas have been the exceptions, rather than the norm. He said most players have embraced Dooley and his staff.
"I think a lot of people are buying in, man, just because they want to win so bad," Jones said. "All the adversity this team has been through in the past three or four years, it's crazy. A lot of people are just putting that behind them and believing in the system, though.
"We're trying to get wins. That's all that matters."
Dooley drew criticism on Knoxville radio stations Friday for what some fans perceived as a heavy-handed approach to the departed players. But he claims that moving on as a football program doesn't include dismissing Brown and Douglas as "human beings."
"I told Bryce, just like I'm telling Aaron, that we are for them as people," Dooley said. "I'm not going to deny Bryce access to our academic support or any personal growth he needs as a person. That's just not how I am. He's not on our team, so he doesn't get any football growth, but he's still a man. He's still a human being. If he needs help academically or spiritually, we're going to support him as a person."
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