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KNOXVILLE - A handful of injured University of Tennessee football players stood on crutches or paced around Haslam Field on walking boots Sunday night.

But one presumably healthy player - freshman wide receiver Nu'Keese Richardson - was not on the premises, and Volunteers coach Lane Kiffin didn't specify a reason.

"We're dealing with an issue with Nu'Keese, and I'll have some more information on that for you guys next time - on Tuesday," Kiffin said after practice, without adding further details.

Richardson, a highly touted prospect from recruiting hotbed of Pahokee, Fla., committed to Florida before switching to UT on national signing day. He has struggled to find a consistent role in the Volunteers' offense and special teams. A 41-yard run as a Wildcat quarterback on the opening play against Auburn has been the biggest highlight, but the 5-foot-9, 160-pound speedster has struggled to catch punts and beat press coverage on the perimeter.

Fellow freshman Bryce Brown took practice snaps in the Wildcat package last week, and some in the program quietly suggested that decision didn't sit well with Richardson, who cited immediate playing time as a major reason to sign with the Vols over the Gators.

Richardson, a shy presence around the media and quiet player on the field, has made subtle references to homesickness since arriving in Knoxville, but he told The Times Free Press last week that things had improved.

"It's still a big adjustment, but I'm OK," he said. "There's good people up here."

Several in the program said Richardson has been more openly concerned in private, but they declined to offer details.

Attempts to contact Richardson and his family on Sunday night weren't immediately successful.

LATHERS' BLOOD ISSUE

Redshirt freshman Herman Lathers, who filled in for injured middle linebacker Savion Frazier on Saturday night and competed for a starting position until sustaining two concussions in preseason camp, said Sunday night that he's been battling a blood problem the past two years.

Lathers didn't disclose his specific condition but said he required multiple tests before playing every week.

"I think it's a long term thing, with how I'm dealing with it," Lathers said. "As far as the training room goes, they say the only situation (to fix it) is removing my spleen - which I really don't want to have happen - so I guess it's going to be long term.

"They said the spleen kills the platelets. I don't know if it's killing my platelets or not, but it's like a 99 percent chance that it would help my situation. But I'm really not willing to let them take off my spleen, because it's like a major part of your immune system, so I guess this is a long term situation that I'm going to have to deal with."

Lathers said he doesn't think the condition hinders him on the field, but it occasionally prevents him from getting cleared to play.

"They test my blood like two or three times per week," he said. "They want (the platelet count) to be above 100,000, but sometimes it's not. They give me medicine sometime to boost it, but sometimes it doesn't."

Lathers said UT discovered the irregularity during a routine physical before his redshirted season, but that hasn't been the talented Louisiana native's only heath issue. He had his tonsils removed in the middle of last season and dealt with two concussions the past few months - but he said both of those worries were more temporary.

Kiffin said earlier this season that Lathers had the physical ability of a first round NFL draft pick.

"Once I got my concussion in camp, it took me like two weeks to get back to my normal self, and then I got a concussion in one of our first games," Lathers said. "That was messing with me, and of course I've got my blood situation, too. I never know when I'm going to play, but I'm always up and ready and prepared for it.

"I just stay ready and stay focused, and I play when they let me play. Stuff keeps happening, but I can't control everything."

OTHER INJURIES

Kiffin said starting junior linebacker Savion Frazier (knee) and fellow starting junior linebacker LaMarcus Thompson (stinger) were better than initially thought after sustaining Saturday night injuries.

Frazier was on crutches Sunday night, but Kiffin's report was optimistic in comparison to Saturday night, when Frazier fell awkwardly on the sideline in tremendous pain and had to be helped off the field. ESPN field microphones picked up the popping sound from the player's knee and his immediate request for medical attention.

"It just seemed bad coming off the field," said Kiffin, who added there was "a chance" Frazier could play Saturday against Memphis.

Junior defensive end Gerald Williams and freshman defensive tackle Marlon Walls wore walking boots Sunday night because of ankle injuries. Neither situation is considered serious, but Kiffin said he would have more specific updates later in the week.

Junior defensive end Chris Walker stayed off the field Sunday night with the sore lower back that kept him out of the South Carolina game.

Other contacts for Wes Rucker are www.twitter.com/wesrucker and www.facebook.com/tfpvolsbeat.

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