Houston absence a 'weird deal'

If anyone would have insight into the intriguing saga of Cedric Houston, you figure it would be Trooper Taylor, Houston's running backs coach at Tennessee.

But not even Taylor knows.

Cedric Houston won't take Trooper's calls.

``I was in shock with the whole thing,'' Taylor said. ``It's a weird deal.

``He's focused on finishing his degree and moving on with life. It's kind of crazy with the kind of money you can make in the NFL, even as a third-down back.''

With an injury to running back Thomas Jones, the New York Jets have called Taylor trying to reach Houston. But Taylor can't track him down.

``The Jets want him back,'' Taylor said. ``Maybe he isn't taking my calls because he knows I'll try to talk him into returning.''

Lynette Houston, Cedric's mother, said she doesn't buy the theory that Cedric has grown out of love with football.

Neither does Taylor.

``He loved the game way too much to fall out of love,'' Taylor said. ``If anything, he was too much in love with football. He'd rather work out than go to class.''

Houston, a 1,000-yard rusher at UT in 2004, has two children. Both live in Arkansas, his native state. But Houston is in Knoxville, so it doesn't appear to be a family matter. And Houston hasn't had any major injuries.

``I don't think it's medical,'' Taylor said. ``If I knew, I'd fix it and get his butt back up there. But when he sets his mind to do something, he's pretty stubborn and hard headed. It's pretty hard to talk him out of something unless it's his mother or the Lord.''

Houston has talked to some of his former Vol teammates, but otherwise, he's keeping a low profile.

And the mystery of his departure from the Jets' camp remains unsolved.


Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge said the Vols' passing attack has a ways to go before being ready for the likes of California, the season opening opponent.

Asked if he's encouraged by the passing game, Ainge said: ``I'm not, like, joyous. We've been throwing too many interceptions and dropping too many balls, having too many miscues. If we were playing a game tomorrow, I don't think we're ready.''

Ainge's comments were made before Saturday night's scrimmage.

From a fan's perspective, it adds to the anxiety about a position that was a major concern entering the season. The Vols lost their top three wide receivers from a year ago and they'll be counting on returnees with limited big-play ability or newcomers with athleticism but little experience.

Ainge said it's not unusual for the offense to struggle against the defense in August drills because each unit knows what the other is doing. That usually favors the defense.

``I think it gets harder when you practice against your own guys,'' Ainge said. ``Hopefully, they (defenders) can make practice harder than a game.''

Meanwhile, Ainge had praise for the returning receivers. He said Lucas Taylor and Austin Rogers are setting the tempo. And he said Josh Briscoe has made some great catches over the middle.

``I'm not sure exactly how it will shake out,'' Ainge said. ``We've got some young guys who can do some things. Whether they're ready to play every down or not, we know they have some talent and we need to utilize it.''


Senior linebacker Ryan Karl said his back – a compression fracture in the spine – has held up well after a week of contact.

He suffered the injury when his ankle rolled and he fell off a platform while lifting weights in June.

``It crushed me pretty good,'' Karl said. ``It definitely hurt. It was more scary than painful.''

Karl thinks the Vols' linebacking corps can be scary this season. Jerod Mayo is a potential All-American, Rico McCoy has been making big plays, Adam Myers-White is pushing for playing time and Karl is the veteran of the group.

``I think the strength of the defense is the linebacking corps,'' Karl said. ``We're going to do really well.

``For the first time since I've been here, the linebacking room has been completely full. We had to bring in some extra chairs. We've got a lot of talent at linebacker and I can't wait to see what it looks like during the season.''

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