UT suspends Coker

Tennessee's football team suffered its first setback of 2007 even before the pads went on.

Sophomore tailback LaMarcus Coker, a second-team preseason all-conference pick by SEC coaches, has been suspended indefinitely. Head coach Phillip Fulmer informed the player and the team prior to Tuesday's first full-pads workout of preseason.

Fulmer said following the practice that privacy laws prevent him from discussing the nature of Coker's transgression, except to say it was related to a "medical situation." The head man noted that he and school officials "have worked with him through it but that doesn't excuse where we are at this point or what brought us to this point."

After calling the suspension "a big deal," Fulmer added that Coker was "very hurt … very remorseful … very regretful … a lot of tears."

In a separate statement released by the sports information office, Fulmer is quoted as saying: "I have tried, the administration has tried and we all will continue trying to help him, but at this point he must help himself."

The head man admitted that Coker's problem predated his enrollment at UT two years ago and "goes back a ways." He also confirmed that there are "policies and procedures that the players must follow," perhaps referring to school policies regarding alcoholism. That would be a "medical situation" significant enough to involve the school administration.

Coker has been in and out of Fulmer's doghouse the past two years. The head man conceded as much, adding: "He's been a challenge at different times but he's responded each time in a good way. I'm hopeful he'll do that this year."

Although he described Coker as "a good person" Fulmer added that "He's got some issues, and we're trying to get through them."

With Coker suspended, Tennessee has some issues, too. Replacing his breakaway speed as a tailback and kick returner is Issue No. 1.

Coker led the 2006 Vols with 696 rushing yards. His 6.4 per-carry average was nearly three yards better than the men who shared the tailback duties – Montario Hardesty (3.6) and Arian Foster (3.5). Coker also led the '06 Vols in kickoff returns with an average of 20.0 yards.

Fulmer conceded that Coker's suspension "takes a good player out of the rotation," but noted that Foster "had established himself as the No. 1 guy" coming out of spring practice.

With Hardesty slowed by a hamstring pull, Fulmer said the coaching staff "spent the entire day today looking at the young guys (tailbacks), adding: "We'll get one of those guys up there in the mix. We need three to play."

The coach said he also gave eight of the "young guys" a look on kick returns during Tuesday's practice to see "which one of those guys can make good decisions and handle the ball."

There is a possibility Coker will rejoin the team in time to be ready for the Vols' Sept. 1 opener at California. There also is a possibility he won't.

"He brings an element of speed that is not out there," Fulmer said. "We'd love to have him back with us. Hopefully, he'll take care of his business and get back to us."

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