As the Tennessee Volunteers took the field on Tuesday evening for their first fall camp practice of the preseason, there were two faces noticeably absent. Tennessee head Coach Butch Jones made it known on Monday in a pre-camp press conference that wide receivers Von Pearson and Preston Williams would not be participating in football activities until further notice.
Pearson, a senior from Newport News, Va., who came to Tennessee as a junior college transfer last year, has been absent from the program since the end of spring camp. He was placed on an indefinite suspension from the football team on April 24 after being named as a suspect in an alleged rape. Pearson has yet to be charged for the alleged crime. However, he remains suspended from both the university and all football activities while the matter is still being reviewed by the Knox County District Attorney General’s office.
In spite of missing two games due to an ankle injury and being somewhat limited in the weeks following his injury, Pearson still managed to lead Tennessee in touchdown receptions (5) in 2014. He also ranked second on the team in both receptions (38) and receiving yards (393). He capped off his 2014 campaign with his strongest performance of the season in the TaxSlayer Bowl by hauling in seven passes for 75 yards and a touchdown. He was expected to play a major role in the Vols’ 2015 offense as a starting wide receiver. At this time, Pearson’s future as a student athlete at Tennessee remains uncertain.
Williams' future with the Vols also remains unclear at this time. The true freshman and former 5-star High School All-American from Hampton, Ga., was recently deemed ineligible by the NCAA Clearinghouse after a standardized test score was red-flagged. Williams, who is recovering from ACL tear last fall, was on track to be a full participant in fall camp. He also was expected to be a contributor in Tennessee’s 2015 offense.
In order to return to the Tennessee football program, Williams will have to retake the standardized test and score within a reasonable margin of the red-flagged test. The timetable for Williams to re-take the test is unknown at this time, but it is unlikely that he will be able to re-join the team before the start of the season.
The absence of Pearson and Williams leaves the Vols with just eight scholarship wide receivers to begin fall camp. Two of which, junior Jason Croom and sophomore Josh Smith, remain somewhat limited as they return from serious injuries suffered last season. True freshman Jauan Jennings has been moved from quarterback to wide receiver in order to help supplement the current shortage at the position. There also has been some discussion about moving current defensive back and kick returner, junior Malik Foreman, to wide receiver. In the meantime, Tennessee will employ the services of several walk-ons to help fill the current void, including former 3-star blueshirt freshman Vincent Perry and University of Virginia transfer Adrian Gamble.
If Pearson and Williams are unable to return to the program at some point this season, it could have a significant impact, especially if injuries begin to accumulate at wide receiver, as they did for the Vols in 2014.
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McVey is a diehard Tennessee Volunteers' fan who loves singing "Rocky Top" every opportunity he gets. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS