KNOXVILLE - Several Tennessee football players heard rumors about safety Demetrice Morley's dismissal from the program. Many Volunteers admitted they expected Tuesday's news.
That didn't make it easier to stomach when reporters informed them.
"I really didn't know he was dismissed until y'all came up and asked me," fellow safety Eric Berry said after Tuesday's indoor practice. "I really don't know what to say."
Added defensive back Dennis Rogan: "I just found out, so it hasn't really just hit me that hard yet. It's going to be tough without him, though. I can tell you that."
And All-Southeastern Conference linebacker Rico McCoy: "Wow, you caught me with that one. That's bad news right there."
"Demetrice won't be part of our team any more," first-year coach Lane Kiffin said moments earlier. "Like we said a long time ago, from the beginning, this isn't easy. It's very demanding for guys to stay here and go through everything that we do, and to hold to our standards on and off the field that we expect and to be a part of our culture. Demetrice could not do that, and we wish him the best of luck."
Morley arrived from Miami in 2005 as one of the nation's highest-ranked recruits, vowing to be "the biggest thing to hit Tennessee since Elvis." He had his moments with big hits and big interceptions, but Tuesday's dismissal - his second in three years - left teammates shaking their heads at the potential he left untapped.
"It's crazy," said McCoy, another 2005 recruit. "When you've been with someone for that long, it's like a brother. He's like a brother. That's sad news, a shocker.
"I was just talking about socially. But as a football player, the sky was the limit for how good he could be. You saw that from him playing his first season here as a true freshman. I was just talking about having him around as one of the guys. That's a big hit right there."
Kiffin declined multiple requests to give specifics into Morley's recent issues, saying the player "just couldn't maintain the standards that we need to have here at our university.
"Like I've said before, I didn't care what they did before, whether bad, good or indifferent," Kiffin continued. "We didn't judge people on what they'd done before. We judge them on since we've been here. We've had a number of kids that I think if we would have judged them on what they did before, we'd have different opinions of them."
Morley's teammates painted a picture full of late appearances and absences from workout sessions, team meetings and classes - an accumulation of problems, rather than one major mistake.
"With a talent like Demetrice, everybody knows he's probably the best closer on the ball we've got," Fleming said. "Demetrice is just a flat-out natural defensive back. But when you've got a guy that just ain't on the same page as everybody else, it's hard to call him part of the family.
"It's unfortunate to lose him, and we're sad about it, but we've got to move on."
Cornerback C.J. Fleming said the dismissal could be "really good for us.
"Demetrice is one of my better friends, but this was probably a better thing for everybody, as far as the family thing," he said. "When somebody sees somebody that just don't really want to show up to practice, don't want to come to meetings and still thinks they can show up when they get there and it's their spot, (that's not good). I think this is making everybody stronger.
"He's a senior. He's got kids to take care of. This was his second chance back. My blessings go out to him, and I hope Demetrice straightens his life up, but that's about it."
Berry and Rogan weren't as sunny about the situation, though neither blamed Kiffin for his decision.
"It's tough to say, but we've kind of got to move on and just try to get things straight with us and make sure we're ready for the season," Berry said. "I hate that he got ditched from the team and stuff like that, but I don't know."
Added Rogan: "When the coaches tell you something, you need to do it, because this just sets an example for everybody else. If you don't do what the coaches want done, then you could be out of here, too."
Morley couldn't be reached for comment by late Tuesday night.
Kiffin said a review of Saturday's scrimmage video showed that B.J. Coleman from Chattanooga "played better" than fellow quarterback Jonathan Crompton.
Coleman, competing mostly against the No. 2 defense, completed 17 of 22 passes for 112 yards. Crompton, playing mostly against the starters, was 9-of-16 for 90 yards and an interception.
Kiffin said he was pleased with Coleman's response to Crompton taking more No. 1 snaps in practice last week.
"It was great to see," Kiffin said. "We challenged him, you know - 'How are you going to react to the adversity? Do you kind of move down or throw it in or pout?' And he didn't do that at all. He came out and worked really hard at his drills, and it carried over to a great Saturday."
Nick Stephens still isn't 100 percent back from a fractured throwing wrist, but he's practiced since last week and hopes to scrimmage Friday.
"I'm going to finish out this spring, the spring game and everything, and I'm going to finish out strong," Stephens said. "That was the reason we decided it would be best for me to sit out Saturday."
Kiffin hasn't placed a timetable on naming a starter, and Stephens maintained that he'll get a "full shot" to win the job.
"We haven't really talked about that much, but I would expect that it's going to go through fall camp," Stephens said. " I would expect all three of us to just keep battling hard, keep working hard and keep fighting for the job."