UT's Incredible Shrinking Class

On paper UT's Class of 2006 didn't look to be up to the high standards the Volunteers have established during head coach Phillip Fulmer's reign on The Hill. And that was before the little class that could started shrinking.

If you didn't like Tennessee's 2006 signees as a group on National Signing Day, you're not likely to feel different four weeks before opening day. In the course of a week the Vols lost two of the most heralded members of that class in four-star tight end Lee Smith and four-star safety Justin Garrett. Smith was dismissed after a DUI incident led to his arrest, while Garrett failed to complete a Junior College class required for admission.

Wide receiver Stephaun Raines, regarded as a high-grade sleeper, is still awaiting approval from the NCAA Clearinghouse, as is Gerald Williams, who originally signed with UT in 2005, but didn't gain admission and was signed again in the Class of 2006. Williams is a four-star prospect that Tennessee expects to be appoved, but still isn't practicing and hasn't played in a game of any kind in nearly two years. He impressed observers last year in pre-season scrimmages, but after sustained inactivity it's not clear if he could be of immediate help even if he is cleared for competition.

Another JC standout, defensive end Walter Fisher who signed with UT in December, is coming back from a shoulder injury that occurred during spring practice. Meanwhile a trio of redshirt freshmen will also be unavailable when the Vols open their 2006 campaign against California. Defensive back Marcelous Johnson is under suspension, while offensive lineman Malcolm Rawls, of Memphis, has left the team. Defensive end Raymond Henderson was dismissed from the team last spring.

There are at least three other UT 2006 signees that were contending with academic questions over the summer, although most of the status issues have apparently been resolved. Otherwise, this class will shrink even further before the season even begins.

Certainly there is nothing unusual about this sort of attrition among the ranks, especially this time of year. However when you sign athletes with a lower threshold for success, you figure to assume fewer off-the-field risks. That's often the trade off you accept and expect.

Unfortunately, in this new era of Tennessee football, Vol fans are learning to expect the unexpected.

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