Jones confirmed that rising sophomore defensive tackle Michael Sawyers has been dismissed from the program for a “violation of athletic and team policies.” Rising sophomore receivers Vic Wharton and Ryan Jenkins (update below on Jenkins), meanwhile, are weighing options for their future.
“Right now they’ve asked to explore other options,” Jones said of Wharton and Jenkins, leaving the door open for a potential return, but not guaranteeing anything. “We have granted them the opportunity to explore other options. We’ll see how that goes. So we’ll see where that goes with those two individuals.”
Though rumors have circulated this offseason, the uncertainty around Wharton is still surprising on a big-picture level. The in-state product and nephew of former Vol basketball player Brandon Wharton, Vic Wharton was one of the most outspoken recruits in the 2014 recruiting cycle, helping the Vols recruit via social media and other methods, and leading the way to a top-5 class that helped Tennessee turn the corner on the national recruiting scene.
Wharton started the final two games of the season at receiver after a rash of injuries at the position. He caught five total passes as a freshman for 64 yards, most notably catching a 49-yard touchdown pass on a trick play in the TaxSlayer Bowl win over Iowa on Jan. 3. After redshirting in 2013 with knee issues, Jenkins, the son of former Vol defensive back Lee Jenkins, played in all 13 games in 2014, catching just one pass for six yards. Both would face heavy competition at receiver in 2015 with Pig Howard, Von Pearson, Josh Smith, Jason Croom, Josh Malone, Preston Williams and others slated to be on the roster.
Update 2/5, 12:05 pm: Jenkins confirmed via Twitter that he is, indeed, leaving the program:
I have made the decision to transfer from Tennessee after spring. I'm appreciative of my time at UT and all of the life lessons learned.
— Ryan Jenkins (@RyanJenkinsTV) February 5, 2015
Sawyers, a former four-star recruit out of The Ensworth School in Nashville, appeared in four games as a freshman last season, recording two tackles. He was away from the team for a stretch of the season before returning for the TaxSlayer Bowl.
Injury update: Jones confirmed that freshman defensive end Kyle Phillips (shoulder) and linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. (pectoral) won’t go through spring practice due to their injuries. Jalen Hurd also recently underwent a shoulder scope, but Jones does anticipate him being ready for spring practice. Jones said signee receiver Preston Williams (ACL) anticipates being ready for the season opener, and added “I think Preston’s capable of doing anything he puts his mind to.”
Offensive coordinator update: Jones didn’t make any formal announcements in his search for a new offensive coordinator, but did say that not having one had little bearing on recruiting and added that he plans to have one in place soon.
“Not one person expressed concerns,” Jones said. “All they told me was `Coach we trust ya. Go get the best coach that fits us.’ I am closing in on an offensive coordinator. I would expect to have somebody in place hopefully by the end of the week.”