Derek Dooley was pleased with the way his players responded after what was a lackadaisical practice on Wednesday afternoon, although there was one player who wasn't in attendance Thursday afternoon.
"Nick Stephens came to see me earlier today and in light of the way the first eight practices have gone and some of the competition that we have created he doesn't want to be here and run the risk of not playing his senior year," Derek Dooley said after Thursday's workout.
Stephens was in his fifth year as a Volunteer, and Dooley said he believes that was the main concern - being a fifth year and still competing for playing time.
"I think Nick is in his fifth year and of course has been trying to get on the field his whole career," Dooley said. "He just felt like it was too risky to go through another season because he just wants to play."
On Tuesday afternoon Dooley announced that the repetitions were going to be changed at the quarterback position to shift newcomer Tyler Bray and juco transfer Matt Simms into the primary slots. Dooley maintained that despite the switch Stephens wasn't written off as a possibility to start in 2010.
"No, I wasn't at all (writing him off)," Dooley said. "I told Nick that, and I think Nick feels that he doesn't want to risk it. There's a chance that he won't be the quarterback and because of that he would rather just go play down at a smaller school."
Although the thought of Stephens possibly wanting to transfer crossed Dooley's mind, he certainly didn't think that Stephens would surrender before the spring had passed.
"I was surprised that he came before the end of spring," Dooley said. "What I told Nick was that I wished he would have played it out and competed through the spring. Then, based on whatever our analysis was at the end of the spring I could certainly understand how he felt."
Dooley acknowledged that football players go to school to play football, and he understood Stephens' feelings on the matter.
"He will probably go look at some places that can assure him of a starting position," Dooley said. "We hate to lose Nick, but I certainly understand it. You go play football to play, so I understand the emotional part of it."
Stephens is now the third key player to depart the Volunteers since the Derek Dooley era began at Tennessee, along with Bryce Brown and Aaron Douglas. Dooley said that Stephens' departure followed a similar pattern.
"It fits right in with the theme of the rest," Dooley said. "It's kind of what's next? Either way I don't think it mattered, it was inexperience either way. Even though Nick was a fifth-year senior he didn't play a lot. When he did play it probably didn't go the way he wanted to."
Stephens' departure now Matt Simms and Bray into a stiff competition for starting quarterback, but Dooley said they aren't the ones that need to step up in Stephens absence.
"I had a good talk with (receiver) Gerald (Jones) today," Dooley said. "When a new guy comes into a unit everybody says, ‘Well, he has to step up.' I feel the exact opposite. I feel like it's not him that has to step up, it's the other guys that are experienced seniors who have to elevate their game and make sure they bring it every day."
Dooley added that in situations like Thursday's he always approaches the team, in particular a select group of players who best represent the team, what Dooley calls a peer group.
"Whenever we lose a player the first thing I do is talk to our peer group and I did today," Dooley said. "Peer group is 15 to 17 guys, from all classes, that we designated as guys who were doing it the right way on and off the field and show some kind of leadership."
The senior wide receiver was seen leaving practice in a walking boot on his left ankle after Thursday's practice. Derek Dooley said the injury is not serious, and he expects that Jones will return next week.