The Tennessee Vols commenced spring practice today, and they did so without their former blue-chipper Bryce Brown:
The former No. 1 recruit in the country was a no-show as UT took the field under Dooley for the first time on Thursday afternoon, one day after the new coach indicated Brown hadn't approached him about possibly leaving the program.
"As of now he's not a part of the team," Dooley said.
At least one source is taking that to mean things aren't finalized, but it wasn't hard to see this coming.
Logistically, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. After all the nonsense surrounding Brown's signing delays, eligibility issues, and possibly-sleazy "manager" Brian Butler died down, Brown actually panned out all right, to the relief of many conservative Vol fans who would've preferred the team pass on the extra attention. A promising talent who got stuck behind a suddenly surging Montario Hardesty, he only touched the ball 101 times for 460 yards but had a real chance for a breakout season this year, especially with a new quarterback being broken in.
Intangibly, it gets messier. Rumors of Brown skipping town have been circulating for weeks in Knoxville, and turnover in the ranks is always part of the territory with any major coaching change. You could argue the drama that frequently surrounds Brown took its toll, but it's just as easy to point out he created a lot of that drama himself, drawing out his commitment until mid-March of last year. Family affairs could also play a part: Brown's big brother Arthur, whom he was considering following to Miami, left the 'Canes under similarly cloudy circumstances last month, went home to Wichita, and has since enrolled at Kansas State. The Wildcats are the most logical destination for Brown-the-younger, but he can't leave UT before the end of school without incurring a two-year penalty from the NCAA.
All this, of course, is wildly premature conjecture, but when it comes to Bryce Brown, conjecture's pretty much all you have to go on. He's not irreplaceable -- Tennessee has more than its fair share of green but high-potential tailbacks at the moment -- but he's a big, public piece of the puzzle to go missing right now. Stay tuned for updates as this story take shape, here at SBN and our Tennessee blog Rocky Top Talk.