Nu'Keese staying put

All of the worries stemming from Nu'Keese Richardson's failure to show for Sunday's Tennessee football practice proved to be unfounded. The flashy freshman receiver is still with the team.

Asked at his weekly news conference to comment on the "situation with Nu'keese Richardson," head coach Lane Kiffin said, "There is no situation. Nu'keese was dealing with some issues ... some personal issues. Nu'Keese was in (the head coach's office) yesterday and everything's fine."

The coach went on to explain that he sat down with Richardson on Monday and talked about the "ups and downs" of being a freshman in college. Kiffin said the player has put a lot of pressure on himself.

"He has high standards; he wants to be a great player," the head man said. "He wants to go to the NFL and make a bunch of money to support his family. He just has to be patient and do the little things. Then it'll come and he'll be a great player."

Richardson, a 5-10, 165-pound speedster from Pahokee, Fla., was among Tennessee's most heralded signees of 2009, especially since he reneged on a long-standing commitment to Florida to ink with the Vols. He got off to a great start as a Vol, catching three passes for 30 yards in Game 1 vs. Western Kentucky. He has reeled in just two passes for 18 yards in the seven games since, however.

"He's a little bit frustrated, like a lot of freshmen around the country are ... especially when you're potentially a really great player and have had great success in high school," Kiffin said. "Things are different in college than high school. Nu'Keese will continue to develop and we'll continue to work with him, and he'll eventually become a great player."

Asked if Richardson is frustrated with his role or playing time, Kiffin replied: "I just think he's frustrated in general. A lot of freshmen around the country want to come in and do well right away. Nu'Keese has struggled a little bit. He's got to continue to develop, work on the little things, be more consistent in practice and eventually he'll be a great player."

Richardson has contributed mostly on special teams in recent weeks. He returned four kickoffs for 76 yards in Game 4 vs. Ohio, four for 90 yards in Game 5 vs. Auburn, two for 54 yards in Game 6 vs. Georgia and two for 52 yards in Game 7 vs. Alabama. He did not return a kick last weekend vs. South Carolina.

Richardson opened the season as UT's No. 1 punt return specialist, returning three for 30 yards in Game 1 vs. Western Kentucky. He had a 6-yard return in Game 2 vs. UCLA and a season-best 21-yarder in Game 4 vs. Ohio. Since returning one punt 9 yards in Game 5 vs. Auburn, however, he has not returned a punt the past three games.

Clearly, Richardson's role has diminished lately, and Kiffin admitted that the flashy rookie hasn't quite performed up to expectations.

"Yeah, but we have extremely high expectations for all of our players, especially our freshmen as they get here," Kiffin said. "I think all of our freshmen are going to be Freshman All-Americans and great players for us."

Although his impact to date has been less than expected, Richardson has shown occasional flashes that he could be a special player someday.

"He's made a few plays for us," Kiffin conceded. "We haven't given him a ton of opportunities but he's got to be more consistent in practice and do things better. He realizes that. This will be a big week of practice for him."


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