Departure of 3 players slims Vols’ scholarship roster for new arrivals to come (with updated roster)

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KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — The expected attrition on Tennessee’s roster is already under way.

Running back Tom Smith, defensive back Tino Thomas and receiver Paul Harris are moving on and have been given releases to transfer to other programs.

The only mild surprise among those three players is Harris, who arrived in January to lofty praise from coaches. But he struggled mightily in spring and never was able to turn a corner in the fall. With an influx of new receivers on the way, his best chance at playing time had already come and gone.

Thomas was a grayshirt who signed in 2011 but delayed his enrollment until 2012. He finally played a few games on special teams in 2013, but his contributions were limited beyond that.

Smith actually did quite well in garbage-time opportunities in spring and some early-season games. But his chances of ever having a meaningful role as a running back were slim. And unlike fellow reserve running back Alden Hill, Smith never caught on as a special-teamer.

There could be more departures to come, of course, but the Vols already have plenty of breathing room under the 85-man scholarship limit. By my unofficial count, the Vols have 55 players on scholarship, but that includes some former walk-ons who could be dropped back down to walk-on status.

Even beyond that, there are plenty of other candidates for attrition among scholarship players. But coaches won’t have to press that issue¬†until the summer.