KNOXVILLE -- Every University of Tennessee football player has been given an extra day off this week.
The three Volunteers arrested last week in connection with an attempted armed robbery could be away from the game much longer.
First-year UT coach Lane Kiffin said Sunday that wide receiver Nu'Keese Richardson and defensive backs Janzen Jackson and Mike Edwards won't practice or play with the team until more information from last week in uncovered. Kiffin didn't use the word "suspension," though. He didn't use any title to describe his decision.
"Obviously, if it comes out that what we hear happened happened, that's something we will take very seriously," Kiffin said Sunday afternoon, approximately 24 hours after a 42-17 loss at Ole Miss. "But they're not at any of our activities. Obviously, they didn't go to the game with us, and they haven't been in our facility or any of our meetings. They won't play or practice until I get all of their information in, because this is too critical.
"No way would we ever, with something like this possibly having happened, no way we would ever let any of those guys play for us."
No timetable has been set for a decision, either, Kiffin added.
"That's not in my control," Kiffin said. "We've got to make sure that we have all the accurate information and know exactly what happened before we make any rash decisions."
Kiffin was quick to try controlling an on-field problem, though. Worries over dead legs on UT's thin depth chart caused coaches to give the players two days off the practice field this week.
The Vols normally have a brief practice after Sunday film study before resting on Mondays. They simply watched film Sunday, though, and no practice has been scheduled for today.
Ironically, UT's defensive depth was exploited by Dexter McCluster, an Ole Miss senior who hardly played in the previous week's win over Northern Arizona to rest for the Rebels' stretch run.
UT coaches and players said Saturday's player absences weren't an emotional distraction but clearly left a lasting impact on the defense. Jackson was well on his way to freshman All-America status, and Edwards is a backup cornerback who also plays well on special teams.
The Vols played the Ole Miss game with their third starting middle linebacker in SEC play, and they played without nickel cornerback Marsalous Johnson (thumb surgery) and freshman safety Darren Myles Jr. -- whose injured back and hip forced walk-on Tyler Wolf into the game in nickel and dime packages.
"You have three players from a football standpoint that weren't playing for us, and you see that one of them is a great player on defense for us and has been back there," Kiffin said. "And going back to the last two games, we'd given up the least number of explosive plays in the country. There is a reason for that. We play Eric (Berry) up and him back there, and any time a play breaks, he's the last line of defense. He hurts us from that standpoint, and the other two were playing more, and playing on special teams, and that hurts our depth there. That part of it is very frustrating.
"It goes back to the beggining, with everybody talking about, 'How many games are you going to win in your first year?' I always say there's too many variables to know. Just like this, you never know when something like this is going to happen. That's why we never talk about how many wins are we going to have, or how well we're going to play, because you don't know what's going to happen. We'll have to continue to develop the guys we have, but obviously our secondary suffered from all of that."
Jackson, Richardson and Edwards don't seem likely to return before Saturday's game against Vanderbilt, but several UT veterans maintained that distractions -- on or off the field -- won't deter their focus toward gaining bowl eligibility.
Kiffin said the plan is for Myles to return against Vanderbilt and Johnson to suit up for the following Saturday's regular-season finale at Kentucky.
"Our team is still together," Hardesty said. "We were playing well. We were on a two-game winning streak. We came down here and got outplayed. Some big things and some little things happened in the game that caused us to lose. We didn't come down here to lose, and we're not going to plan on losing any more.
"I'm going to continue to do what I do to get ready for the next game, and I know the other guys will follow. We wanted to be 8-4, and now we'll try to finish up 7-5."
Senior defensive lineman Wes Brown said the Vols have "come too far this year to just stop now.
"That just wouldn't be right," Brown continued. "This loss is tough, I can't lie, but I know we can and we will bounce back from this and finish strong."
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