The way Tennessee football is losing players, you might be wondering who's next. Or, in a more extreme scenario, what's next.
Will a couple of squares vanish from the checkerboard end zone at Neyland Stadium? Will the Pride of the Southland Band lose so many members, it can form only half a "T?" Will Smokey look elsewhere?
Excuse the hyperbole. I just wanted to acknowledge the alarmists in the crowd.
Mainstream Vol Nation shouldn't be alarmed. In fact, it would have more cause for concern if the Vols hadn't lost players.
UT has lost 11 players since Lane Kiffin replaced Phillip Fulmer as coach. Some were booted, some quit over the raised expectations and demands, and others left because the depth chart they had in mind didn't coincide with the one assembled by the coaches.
Will the attrition hurt UT? In the short-term, maybe. In the long-term, no.
Kiffin didn't take over a budding dynasty. He took over a program that, after two losing seasons in the last four years, needed an overhaul.
UT has suffered a significant drop-off in talent, as evidenced by last month's NFL draft when one player was taken and by last season's 5-7 record when one of the worst teams in UCLA history and a bottom feeder from the Mountain West Conference took a bite out of the Big Orange.
So it's not as though the depth chart was stacked with future All-SEC players waiting for their turn on SportsCenter. Moreover, it's hardly surprising that a program which suffered from a lack of discipline would experience attrition when a new coach raised the demands and expectations.
When you review the losses one-by-one, what did the Vols actually lose?
Running back Lennon Creer had shown potential, but he was at a position of strength. Tauren Poole and Montario Hardesty both looked better this spring, and prize recruit Bryce Brown will join them in the fall.
Safety Demetrice Morley is a great athlete with starting experience. But he was overrated and unreliable as a player. UT is better off without him.
The loss of backup quarterback B.J. Coleman created the most publicity, because of his position and his background as a Chattanooga high school star. NFL scouts can't get it right when it comes to quarterbacks, so who's to say how his post-UT career will go? However, in watching two scrimmages and five other spring practices, I didn't see evidence that he should be the No. 1 quarterback.
And I don't subscribe to the theory that Kiffin would start a senior quarterback (Jonathan Crompton) next season so he wouldn't scare off a hotshot quarterback prospect for the 2010 class. None of UT's quarterbacks would scare off a hotshot prospect.
Kiffin might have manipulated the situation and kept Coleman on board. He also could have strung other players along out of fear of diminished depth.
But Kiffin has raised more than the demands and expectations. He has raised the candor.
My best guess is he has been brutally honest with players in regard to their playing status.
That assessment is based, in part, on Kiffin's recruiting. Tajh Boyd, a highly recruited quarterback from Hampton, Va., committed to UT's former staff. He withdrew his commitment after meeting with Kiffin, who questioned whether Boyd would be happy in UT's pro-style offense.
Kiffin's personnel decisions speak more to his confidence than his candor. He believes his staff will recruit better players than the previous staff did. Judging by how they finished what the last staff started in recruiting, I agree.
Kiffin now has more to sell than UT tradition or his staff's NFL connections. The message couldn't be clearer: "Come and you shall play."
Recruits don't have to take Kiffin's word for it. They only have to check the roster, which seemingly shrinks by the week.
Talented running backs and cornerbacks are the most likely players to have an impact as freshmen. But UT's lack of depth in the offensive and defensive lines will create a rare opportunity for recruits. Defensive tackle Montori Hughes has taken advantage of that.
He enrolled as a UT freshman in January. Two months later in spring practice, he was competing for a starting position.
The lack of depth will become crucial in the offensive line in 2010. But a team weakness will serve as a recruiting strength.
Some of the player losses also could produce short-term gains. If a veteran player isn't fully committed to the new staff and program, he becomes a liability, even if he is talented enough to start.
Based on the attrition, UT won't have that problem this fall.
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or email@example.com.