The University of Tennessee Athletic Department is apparently holding out hope that charges against freshman safety Janzen Jackson will be reduced or dropped, which could lead to his return to the football field.
Meanwhile, first-year UT coach Lane Kiffin said Tuesday the decision to dismiss two players was to "protect the team."
Kiffin declined to comment on what might make Jackson's role different in the alleged attempted armed robbery of three men outside a convenience store on Nov. 12, but did say, "The easiest thing to look at is he was released (from jail) right away and was treated different in this matter by what happened. I can't get into any more detail than that."
Jackson, along with two other freshmen, receiver Nu'Keese Richardson and defensive back Mike Edwards, all 18, are facing charges after allegedly trying to rob the men at the Pilot on Cumberland Avenue. Richardson and Edwards were dismissed Monday. Jackson is still on the team but not allowed to participate in any team activities. Kiffin said he would not consider reinstating Richardson or Edwards even if their charges are altered.
According to a Knoxville Police Department report, Richardson and Edwards approached the alleged victims' car demanding money while brandishing a gun. Jackson's role is not as clear. However, according to the police report, he told the other players they all needed to leave.
"It was a very, very difficult decision," Kiffin said during his weekly press conference Tuesday about the dismissals. "These are two kids that we recruited. (We) sat with their parents, sat with them and the people around them in their house. This has been very tough on me.
"Our No. 1 rule is 'Protect the team.' As the head coach, I have to make decisions that sometimes you don't want to do. It was a sad day yesterday for those two kids and I wish them the best of luck. They obviously made a very poor decision, but we can't allow that to be a part of our team."
The three victims identified the three players and a female accomplice, Marie Montmarquet, 22, also a UT student. Montmarquet allegedly drove the players away from the Pilot in her car. She also faces marijuana charges.
Two of the victims, Cory Zickefoose and Corey Smith, said in interviews with the News Sentinel on Friday they didn't want to press charges, but the police did anyway.
The Knox County District Attorney General's office can move forward with the prosecution without the victims' consent.
The defendants are scheduled to make their first court appearance Friday in General Sessions Court.
Jackson took over the starting safety position in UT's second game this season and held onto it for seven consecutive games before being suspended for the Memphis game for an unspecified violation of team rules unrelated to the attempted armed robbery charges.
Kiffin has referred to Jackson as a potential freshman All-American and said his absence was a factor in UT's 42-17 loss at Ole Miss on Saturday. All three players did not make the travel roster.
Kiffin said he doesn't think the arrests have affected UT's recruiting.
"Everybody at times goes through issues," Kiffin said. "The message sent is how we dealt with it . . . (prospects' parents) understand that situations happen everywhere and it's more about how you deal with them."
Kiffin also discounted the notion that UT should have a midweek curfew during the season.
"We have 120 kids on our team, so are we going to go to 120 houses at 11 o'clock at night and knock on their door and find out if they're there?'' Kiffin said. "I've never heard of that. I don't really know how you could do that."