KNOXVILLE - The University of Tennessee football program's most recent off-the-field issue, like others before it, is potentially a major threat to the Volunteers' on-field results.
Sophomore Darren Myles, projected by many to be the team's starting strong safety, was dismissed from the program Friday by first-year coach Derek Dooley.
Dooley indefinitely suspended two other potential starters: sophomore defensive tackle Marlon Walls and sophomore linebacker Greg King.
There's a chance more players could be charged in the matter, according to Knoxville Police Department officials. And there's also a chance players not charged by the law could face sanctions from Dooley.
"It hurts our team," the coach said Friday night. "A lot of people get hurt when you do things that aren't right, and it's not just Darren who hurts. ... We're going to be hurt by this on the field, competitively."
The Vols already were scheduled to start preseason camp well below the NCAA's maximum allotment of 85 scholarship players, rendering them with precious little depth in several key spots - especially defensive tackle.
An extended period of time without Walls or any other defensive tackle will be tough for them to handle. And Walls, sophomore Montori Hughes and junior college transfer John Brown - arguably the team's top three tackles - reportedly were inside Bar Knoxville when Friday's incident started.
"There's actions that we're taking internally, and there's also a period where we're working to figure out exactly what happened, just like everybody else," Dooley said. "It takes time to gather all the information from all the parties involved."
And when all that information is gathered, the Vols' depth chart could look drastically different. As one person close to the program admitted Friday with a sigh, "some of our most important guys" were at least witnesses to the incident.
Denarius Moore, arguably the team's best wide receiver, was questioned by authorities Friday. Freshman wide receiver Matt Milton also was interviewed, but KPD officials weren't sure whether either pass-catcher would ultimately be charged.
"A lot of people are hurt by this, and that's why it's a tough decision," Dooley said. "But sometimes, at the end of the day, you have to fall really hard to get it. We want to be able to change everybody, but I think the reality is ... sometimes you've got to be hit really hard to figure it out.
"We're going to make our decision. We're going to be swift about it, and then we're going to move on. ... We've got to start over and rebuild, and we'll do that. We've got a lot of great leaders on this team that are really disappointed in some of the other guys on the team.
"I expect them all to rally and handle it in the right way."