Sure the personnel hit isn't crippling but it is damaging in more ways than one. Dorian Davis was a thumper at middle linebacker and could have been in line for more playing time as a backup to Ellix Wilson as well as in short-yardage duty.
Wardlow — who is the last Vol to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated — has been a standout on special teams and a consistent contributor in the secondary. Plus the vanquished defensive duo had a combined five years of playing experience that is lost to the program. Players can be replaced but not experience. It has to be seeded, nurtured and cultivated.
It's interesting (at least to an interested observer of recruiting) that these exiled athletes represent UT's No. 1 ranked Class of 2005 and No. 24 ranked Class of 2006, which figure so prominently into Tennessee's 2008 season.
Davis' departure follows other UT 2006 signees Lee Smith, Dustin Lindsey, Blake Garrettson, Justin Garrett and Stephaun Raines that either didn't qualify or were otherwise dismissed. Brent Vinson also failed to qualify that year but, after a detour to prep school, signed with the Vols again in 2007 and started last fall as a freshman. Cody Pope also took a year away from the game in order to become eligible. Raines signed with UT again this year out of Coffeyville Community College.
That's a total of nine prospects from the 2006 class that either didn't qualify, were dismissed or that attended junior college, prep school or a tutoring program in order to gain academic eligibility. Ironically, Coach Phillip Fulmer extolled this class for it's character, academic achievement and work ethic when he defended the Vols No. 24 ranking on National Signing Day 2006.
Other players from that class, including several of its eight four-star signees, like Pope, Smith, Garrett, Chase Nelson and Nick Stephens are either gone or haven't pushed into the playing picture. Ditto for lower rated talents like Jarred Shaw, LaMarcus Thompson, Darrius Myers and Victor Thomas. That's not to say they won't make some breakthroughs in the spring or fall, but it does suggest a discomforting degree of stagnation.
For the most part the Class of 2005 has held up much better on and off the field. Montario Hardesty, Vladimir Richard, Dan Williams, Chris Scott, Rico McCoy, Josh McNeil, Lucas Taylor, Austin Rogers, Ricardo Kemp, Wes Brown, Josh Briscoe, Marsalous Johnson, Adam Myers-White, Demonte Bolden and Jeff Cottam are all either starters or in playing rotations. So were Wardlow, Demetrice Morley and LaMarcus Coker before falling short of academic standards or out of step with unspecified team rules.
However Morley is expected back next fall and Gerald Williams, who first signed with UT in 2005, is expected to make his long awaited debut following a stellar JC campaign in San Francisco that further confirmed stories of his seek-and-destroy prowess on defense.
Furthermore another 2005 signee, former five-star QB prospect Jonathan Crompton, is expected to be a vital component to UT's success after playing the dutiful understudy for Erik Ainge the last two seasons.
The major personnel hits from the No. 1 ranked Class of 2005 are Coker, Raymond Henderson, Slick Shelley and now Wardlow. As a simple side-by-side comparison the No. 1 class provided the Vols far more solutions on the field and fewer problems off the field than the No. 24 ranked class.
That won't allay any concerns UT fans may have regarding the No. 35 ranked Class of 2008, but at least they know it's no longer over signed.