There was a conspicuous guest at Tennessee’s practice Thursday.
There on the sideline, wearing a Tennessee sweatshirt, was Bryce Brown watching practice alone.
It was the first public sighting of the talented tailback at a team function this spring. UT’s leading returning rusher pulled himself from spring practice before it began last Thursday. The sophomore is thought to be evaluating his options and considering transferring.
Onlookers began to wonder if the appearance signaled a possible return for Brown, who left the Neyland-Thompson Sports Complex as the Vols were holding their post-practice meeting.
Brown declined comment. That left new coach Derek Dooley to field the media’s questions.
“I never saw Bryce,” Dooley said. “I was out there coaching the guys out there. I didn’t even know he was here.”
Dooley said he hasn’t had any recent discussions with Brown but seemed open to allowing him to return to the team — for now.
“I don’t think there’s a timeframe but there’s a responsibility you have to the team,” Dooley said. “This is the team’s team.
“I have a lot of communication with our players and our seniors and if there’s ever decisions like that on people coming back or leaving, I’ll always involve them.”
One senior, receiver Gerald Jones, supported Brown’s return.
“I think everybody deserves a second chance,” Jones said. “Sometimes it gets hard. (Former UT coach Lane) Kiffin was his guy. He came out here because of Kiffin. He’s all the way from Kansas. For Kiffin to leave and him being away from his parents, it’s hard.
“But if he wanted to come back, I think this team would welcome him back with open arms.”
Jones said UT’s players aren’t talking about Brown. And Dooley made it clear that he’s not raring to do so either.
“I told the team, ‘We’re planting grass. We’re not pulling weeds,’ ” Dooley said. “We’re building for the future. We’re putting seeds down. We’re going to have a great field soon. I’m not going to concern myself with pulling weeds because then nothing happens. There’s no growth.”
That, however, doesn’t mean Brown is shunned.
“I’m not going to deny Bryce access to our academic support, any personal growth he needs as a person,” Dooley said. “It’s just not how I am. He’s not on our team so he doesn’t get any football growth. (But) he’s still a man. He’s a human being.”