Tennessee held Janzen Jackson's position for him.
And now, the freshman is welcome to be one of the Vols again.
Officially cleared of all attempted armed robbery charges on Monday, Jackson was back on the practice field Tuesday, working with the first team and preparing for a return to the starting lineup at Kentucky on Saturday (TV: ESPNU, 7 p.m.). Considering how the Vols have fared without him during the last three games, they were clearly glad to have him back.
"I think it does help a ton for us, defense and special teams," said coach Lane Kiffin, who announced Jackson's reinstatement at his 12:30 p.m. press conference. "Janzen is a great player, and I think it's very obvious when you look at stats. When he's not played for us, we've played the worst that we've played on defense all season long. He's missed the last three games, and prior to those three games we had given up the least explosive plays in the country on defense.
"When a play breaks, he's always the last line. We've missed that, so it'll be good having that back."
Kiffin didn't exactly rush to the decision to bring him back, but once Jackson was cleared by the police, the District Attorney's office and UT student affairs, it wasn't a hard one to make.
Ultimately Jackson served a two-game suspension during the investigation into what role he might have played in the incident including dismissed freshmen teammates Nu'Keese Richardson and Mike Edwards. This came after Jackson missed the Memphis game for an unrelated and undisclosed violation of team rules. But with that cleared up, the Vols (6-5, 3-4 SEC) are putting their focus back on the role he can play for a banged-up defense against the Wildcats (7-4, 3-4).
"Oh man, he looked good," defensive tackle Dan Williams said. "The defense felt some energy, everybody was running around - it's always good to have Janzen back there. He's a good athlete, and he can really help us out back there.
"I mean, today was just a normal practice. He was just back in the rotation, and he looked like he'd never missed a day."
It will certainly provide a lift if Jackson picks up right where he left off in the middle of a potential freshman All-America season.
The Vols looked like one of the nation's best defenses in the four games prior to Jackson's absence against Memphis, and since then they've been decidedly average - or worse against Ole Miss. A few more injuries and a lengthy layoff for Jackson might make it a challenge to fix all their issues, but the Vols at least aren't expecting the latter to be a problem.
"Janzen is a very intelligent football player, you can tell by the way that he plays, how he's always running to the ball, knows where it's going," Kiffin said. "He's had a few weeks off so he'll have to get back in the rhythm of practice and the rhythm of the game. But I expect him to play really well because he does take football so serious and studies it so much, I don't think there will be a drop-off.
"I think he's very relieved. This has been very difficult on him. As I said, he was cleared of any wrongdoing or any knowledge at all of this situation happening, and so part of you feels bad for him in a way because he's had to go through this. Him and his family have had to go through being on SportsCenter, his name tagged with this incident, missing the last two games because of this. I know he's excited to be back and he's ready to go."
The Vols put that to the test Tuesday, and Jackson easily slid back into his starting role and looked plenty at ease to be there.
That seemed to have a contagious effect as well, and not just because it made the unit look healthier.
"He's been happy ever since I saw him Saturday," safety Eric Berry said. "He's just been grinning ear to ear and really been having fun, running around. It's hard to see him without a smile on his face. I saw him (Monday) in class and he was smiling for no reason.
"He's just back to his old self, just having a good time."
Now he's free to do it all back at his old position.