KNOXVILLE - When Tennessee opens spring football practice Friday afternoon, it will do so without its leader in receptions from last season.
Rising junior receiver Pig Howard will not participate in the Volunteers' spring drills due to personal reasons.
Second-year coach Butch Jones confirmed multiple reports of Howard's pending absence via text message to the Times Free Press early Tuesday afternoon.
As a sophomore in 2013, the 5-foot-8, 186-pounder from Orlando, Fla., caught a team-high 44 passes for 388 yards and three touchdowns out of the slot, an important position in Jones's offense. Only freshman Marquez North registered more receiving yards last season than Howard, who caught 13 passes for 54 yards and a score as a freshman in 2012.
The former four-star prospect, whose given name is Alton, had his best game against Georgia. He caught four passes for 70 yards and ran six times for 46 yards to record a career-high 116 all-purpose yards, but his fumble reaching for the pylon in the corner of the end zone in overtime proved costly in the Vols' loss.
Howard caught 11 passes for 89 yards in the loss at Missouri and also had scoring receptions against Florida and South Carolina, and he threw a touchdown pass out of the wildcat package in the 2012 loss at South Carolina.
Beyond this spring, Howard's future with the Tennessee program in unclear. He is still listed as an active student in the university's online directory.
The Vols brought in two receivers -- five-star prospect Josh Malone and junior college transfer Von Pearson -- in January as part of the touted 2014 recruiting class, and Pearson, who caught 93 passes for 1,601 yards and a dozen touchdowns for Feather River College in California, could get an early look in the slot in Howard's absence.
Josh Smith, who struggled with drops and battled some knee pain as a freshman last season, also could play the slot, and Johnathon Johnson came on later last season after joining the Vols from junior college last summer. Devrin Young, who also played slot last season, is moving to more of a tailback-receiver hybrid role, and he'll line up in both spots.
Receivers coach Zach Azzanni does like to teach his wideouts each of the three positions to make them more interchangeable.
Defensive tackle Greg Clark is not listed on the roster on Tennessee's official athletic site and is unlikely to be part of the program moving forward. As a reserve last season, the 6-2, 327-pound Clark, who would have been a fifth-year senior in 2014, finished with seven tackles in 10 games. He played in just two games in two seasons following a redshirt year.
Clark's departure leaves the Vols with 13 seniors for 2014.
Jones's pre-spring news conference is scheduled for noon on Thursday, and Tennessee will open its first practice at 4:20 p.m. Friday.
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com.