Harrell to return

The Tennessee football program's annual battle with the National Football League Draft currently stands this way: One Vol's going, one Vol's staying and one Vol's still deciding.

Twenty-four hours after junior guard Rob Smith announced he's bypassing his senior year in favor of the draft, junior defensive tackle Justin Harrell announced he will return for his senior year. That leaves junior offensive tackle Arron Sears as the only uncommitted delegate.

Ironically, Smith decided to go pro, despite receiving a fourth-round grade from the NFL Draft advisory committee and Harrell decided to stay, despite receiving a second-round grade from the same group.

Harrell, who told The Tennessean he "just wasn't ready" for the NFL, started 11 of 13 games as a UT sophomore in 2004 and all 11 in 2005. His return for 2006 is huge. The Vols are losing six members of their 2005 front seven to graduation, so it would've been a clean sweep had Harrell elected to turn pro prematurely.

Although he no doubt benefited from the fact opposing offenses generally ran away from Jesse Mahelona, the more celebrated tackle on the other side of UT's line, Harrell's accomplishments in 2005 stand on their own merit. The 6-foot-4, 305-pounder enjoyed a spectacular junior year, recording 39 stops, 7.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, 9 hurries, a forced fumble, 5 pass deflections and 2 interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown.

Sears started one game as a freshman, 12 as a sophomore and all 11 as a junior. The 6-4, 330-pounder was named to several All-SEC squads in 2005. His return is crucial for Tennessee, especially now that Smith is leaving. The Vols are losing two starting offensive linemen via graduation – Cody Douglas and Albert Toeaina – so the loss of Smith AND Sears would leave the Vols with just one returning starter in the blocking front, center David Ligon.


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