Kiffin's Mission Invites Attrition

Excitement in Big Orange Country is mixed with apprehension, as the Vols incredible shrinking football roster becomes a growing concern among a Tennessee fan base that, from all appearances, is utterly energized, and thoroughly absorbed by the dramatic transformation taking place on The Hill.

However the rate of attrition is nothing unusual with any program that undergoes a head coaching change. In truth there should be more concern if there was no attrition. This off season and spring practice have become proving grounds for players recruited for Tennessee by the outgoing administration.

In a sense this is a process of indoctrination, purification and elimination designed to get everyone pulling in the same direction and sharing that single heartbeat a young Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant identified in Jim Dent's book The Junction Boys, which chronicled the rigors of a 10-day summer camp held in Junction, Texas, which due to a record drought, 100 degree temperatures and a brutal schedule became more of a camp for survivors. A total of approximately 90 players reported to Bryant's first camp that summer of 1954 and only 27 players remained on the team when it ended.

Certainly nothing of such a demanding nature would ever be attempted in modern times, but a trial by fire can still be imposed is an effective means of binding a team as one. As long as it's equitably applied it will be readily accepted.

Those unable to commit to the program or adapt to the system are forced to either walk the plank or abandon ship. In the short term the loss of talent will impact depth but it will also free scholarships for the 2010 recruiting campaign, allowing Kiffin and Co. to secure the type of large class (32) in its second season that fueled Alabama's rapid return to national prominence.

Fresh off rallying to secure the nation's No. 8 ranked signing class in 2009, a group that included 22 prospects, the Vols could easily sign 30 or more in 2010 and have a class ranked in the top five nationally. That means the 2010 roster would feature mostly players handpicked by the current staff. Plus the holdovers from the Class of 2007 ranked No. 4 nationally will provide strong, senior leadership.

It should also be pointed out that while the Class of 2008 was much criticized and ranked only No. 35 nationally has provided a good number of contenders. The 18-member class has had its disappointments, like four-star talent E.J. Abrams who was given his walking papers by Kiffin, and Preston Bailey, an offensive lineman from Nashville MBA left the team in his first season, it has also provided its share of surprises like defensive tackle Montario Hughes, defensive end Willie Bohannon, defensive back Prentiss Waggner, safety Stephaun Raines, middle linebacker Herman Lathers, defensive back Rodriguez Wilks, running back Tauren Poole and fullback Austin Johnson all of whom are pushing for playing time.

A lot can change when UT's freshmen report for duty in August, but the infusion of fresh blood and much needed speed should provide strong competition for playing time and make for a more competitive team. Amp up the fans who have lowered their expectations, nclude a schedule with eight home games, and it's easy to see the Vols may be as good a surprise in 2009 as they were a bad surprise in 2008.

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