Grades sideline Smith from Vols receiver corps

Senior receiver Bret Smith has been declared academically ineligible.

Published December 31, 2006

TAMPA - Senior Bret Smith, Tennessee's third-leading receiver, has been declared academically ineligible, university officials confirmed Saturday.

Smith, who arrived a day late after travel problems out of his home state of Arkansas, ends the season with 39 catches for 453 yards and five touchdowns.

"Our standard practice is always to review processes and outcomes," athletic director Mike Hamilton said in a news release. "After examining further Bret's academic performance this semester, the institution determined that he is not eligible to participate in the bowl game. He returned to Arkansas Saturday morning."

Look for sophomores Lucas Taylor and Josh Briscoe, who have a combined 17 catches, to slide into the receiver rotation alongside starters Robert Meachem (67 receptions) and Jayson Swain (42).

THREE-HEADED TAILBACK: Tennessee's tailback-by-committee can be perceived one of two ways: The Vols are blessed with depth, or no player has emerged as the undisputed No. 1.

Either way, coach Phillip Fulmer said Saturday that the backfield rotation of freshmen Montario Hardesty and LaMarcus Coker, and sophomore Arian Foster will remain intact for the Outback Bowl.

"All three of our tailbacks, we consider them starters," he said.

"At this point, I would say Montario Hardesty would start the game, but all of them will play. That will be headlines tomorrow, 'Hardesty's going to start,' but it just might depend on what personnel we're in or what plays we've got called. To us, it's not a big deal."

Foster (79 carries, 257 yards) began the season as the starter but sprained an ankle in the second game against Air Force, then he was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct hours after the Nov. 4 loss to LSU.

Coker, the leading rusher (103 carries, 660 yards), sat out some Outback Bowl practices in Knoxville for disciplinary reasons, but he practiced last week in Tampa. Hardesty (104 carries, 382 yards) has made four starts.

MORELLI UNLOADS: Penn State starting quarterback Anthony Morelli used an Outback Bowl media day appearance a couple of weeks ago as his personal therapy session, venting about everything from death threats he has received to his rocky relationship with his high school coach.

Morelli accused his former high school coach of circulating rumors about his weaknesses and sabotaging him during recruiting. The remarks were big news in Pennsylvania. Last week, Morelli said he did not regret his comments, and that it was necessary for him to get his feelings off of his chest.

"I just got the monkey off my back," said the sophomore who has completed 53.7 percent of his passes for 2,227 yards, 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions. "It's over now. I just feel a little lighter out there and better as a player."

CONNOR UNDECIDED: Penn State linebacker Dan Connor, a second-team Associated Press All-American this season as a junior, hasn't decided whether he will enter the NFL draft. Linebacker Paul Posluszny was in a similar situation last season but returned for his senior season after injuring his knee in the Orange Bowl. Connor said he will make his decision after the bowl, but the outcome will have no bearing on his decision.

Joey Knight can be reached at jknight@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3350 and David Murphy can be reached at dmurphy@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1407.