Dallas Thomas had no idea of the quarterback drama brewing around him. He paid no attention when fifth-year senior quarterback Nick Stephens got fewer practice reps with the first team Tuesday.
Why would he? He's preoccupied with challenges of his own. He's a starting tackle in an all-new offensive line, trying to learn a new offensive system under new coach Derek Dooley.
So the change that devastated the quarterback had virtually no impact on the offensive tackle who might have been assigned to protect Stephens, if Stephens had won the starting job. As Thomas put it, "that's not his business."
Good thing he has figured that out. This program is no place for a control freak. Better to stay focused on your assignment and not worry about what's happening elsewhere.
What's happening is one of the worst spring practices imaginable. Stephens' departure is just the latest calamity.
He quit the team Thursday, two days after his practice reps with the first team were reduced, based on his performance through the first seven practices, including an awful scrimmage last Saturday. His loss was a gain for junior college transfer Matt Simms and freshman Tyler Bray.
You can't blame Stephens for quitting. He has spent most of his career sitting on the bench. This is his last opportunity to go somewhere else - a lower-classification program, where he would be eligible immediately and could start this fall. The loss in first-team snaps was a glaring signal that he might not win the quarterback competition at UT. He couldn't take that chance.
His loss is significant on two levels for the Vols. It further depletes their depth at a position that was already shaky. And the uncertainty of the position is compounded by the aforementioned inexperience on the offensive line.
Suppose Simms develops into a competent quarterback this fall. Can you count on him staying healthy and starting every game in a conference as demanding as the SEC? Behind him, there's Bray, who simply looks too frail to make it through a game with the likes of Alabama and Florida.
Stephens' departure impacts the Vols in a less tangible way as well. He becomes another missing face on a team of missing faces.
You can't help but wonder who's next.
UT is on its third head coach in as many seasons. Players are coming and going, too. In fact, the loss of the most experienced quarterback isn't even the most significant loss of the spring.
The Vols already had lost tackle Aaron Douglas, who quit the team for personal reasons. He was their only returning starter in the offensive line, and perhaps the Vol most likely to develop into an All-SEC-caliber player.
UT also has apparently lost running back Bryce Brown. He didn't come out for spring practice. He's expected to transfer.
You knew the 2010 season would be difficult anyway.
You knew it before Lane Kiffin abandoned the Vols for the head-coaching job at Southern California. You knew it before Dooley and his staff worked feverishly to hold together the recruiting class for which Kiffin & Co. began laying the groundwork a year earlier.
And you knew it before the first spring practice.
Only minimal research was required to envision the hard times ahead. All-American junior safety Eric Berry was off to the pros. So were four other defensive starters in addition to starting quarterback Jonathan Crompton, star running back Montario Hardesty, and four starters in the offensive line.
Combine those losses with an upcoming schedule that includes national championship contender Oregon, defending national champion Alabama and perennial power Florida and you get the picture. It's bleak.
And it got bleaker Thursday.
John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.