TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 22: Marquis Maze #4 of the Alabama Crimson Tide stiff arms Izauea Lanier #18 of the Tennessee Volunteers at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 22, 2011 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The play was called back for illegal motion on the offense. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
This is a massive -- but not devastating -- blow to a Vols team expected to lose some players to academics after a woeful fall semester that coincided with last year's 5-7 football record. Lanier was expected to start after playing in all 12 games for Tennessee and starting nine. He ranked sixth on the team in tackles and also defended four passes.
Losing a starter to grades is never a good thing, especially considering the Gordo, Ala., native won a starting spot alongside sophomore Justin Coleman this spring, beating out injured incumbent Prentiss Waggner. Lanier's 6-foot-1 size and physicality made him a prime candidate to start or at least get numerous snaps in UT's new press-man coverage scheme. Now, Lanier's contributions will be put on hold for at least a year.
There was no word whether Lanier would remain on the team or look to transfer elsewhere. He failed to qualify out of high school after committing to Auburn and went to East Mississippi Community College before choosing the Vols over Florida, Ole Miss and others. He immediately made an impact last year, though he failed to intercept any passes.
Minimizing the impact of this news would be ridiculous. Lanier is a good player and potentially a difference-maker in the secondary. But the fact of the matter is there are two points that makes this gut-punch a bit easier to stomach:
- This is the only player released by the university at this time. Normally, that may not mean very much, but my history in sports reporting lets me know that if schools are trying to control news that way UT has been in Dooley's tenure, they want to A.) package the bad news with good as they did by burying this in a release about all the recruits enrolling for summer classes and B.) report all the bad news at once rather than release bits of bad news at different times.
This **COULD** mean good news for the Vols in that maybe Lanier is the only certain academic casualty currently, and that everybody else who struggled through the fall semester has the potential to get back on academic track before fall practice starts. UT already got good news about Corey Miller, who was ineligible to participate in spring drills, so if it's ONLY Lanier, then that isn't nearly as bad as a lot of us expected it would be.
We can hope, right?
- This is happening at about the best position possible for Tennessee. Again, I stress, it's never good to lose a player of Lanier's ilk, so don't take this as anything orange-tinted, but UT essentially had three starters at cornerback in Coleman, Lanier and Waggner. Now, they've got two. But there is a bunch of talent at the cornerback position that can step in and possibly provide quality snaps. Eric Gordon has started games in the past, as has Marsalis Teague. Tino Thomas participated in spring drills and looked like a quality player. Jaron Toney moved over from running back and looked like he may eventually help if the Orange & White game is any indication. Deion Bonner and Daniel Gray have the ability -- especially Bonner -- to come in and immediately contribute.
So, yeah, this is a bummer. [Matter of fact, the only good news is I won't have to look up how to spell his name before I refer to him in a story from now on.] But it shouldn't be the difference in a win or a loss. That's -- as Dooley said in the wake of the Cameron Clear dismissal -- the benefit of having depth that we haven't had in the past. The bottom line, however, is that UT or anybody else for that matter can't go about sacrificing major contributors the way we have in the last week. Hopefully, this will be the only impacting move on the roster due to academics this offseason.
This is the second negative roster news UT has experienced in the past week. Last Friday, Dooley dismissed talented tight end Clear from the team after he was arrested and charged with felony theft. So, let's stop the bleeding here, guys. What say?