Tennessee’s season of woes continued on Wednesday when head coach Butch Jones announced the team’s dismissal of senior wide receiver Alton “Pig” Howard for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Howard led the Vols with 54 receptions and 618 receiving yards in 2014, but has been limited to one catch for eight yards in two appearances.
“You try to impact every person that comes in your program,” Jones said during his press conference. “It’s all about choices and decisions. It’s unfortunate, but we have to continue to move forward.”
Howard served a suspension during Tennessee’s season opener against Bowling Green because of a violation of team rules. Upon his return, the senior recorded one catch for eight yards in Week 2, was held without a catch in Week 3 and has since missed games while battling injuries.
Howard finished his career with 99 receptions — 12th in school history — 1,014 receiving yards and four touchdowns, while also rushing for 202 yards and two scores. Aside from Howard, the Vols were already lacking depth at the wide receiver position. Marquez North has also battled injuries since fall camp and Jason Croom has been sidelined since December.
Howard’s absence has already been felt this season as the Vols rank 11th in the SEC in passing offense. The senior was the perfect fit for Tennessee’s offense in 2014 as an x-factor who could turn short passes into long gains and excel on end-arounds.
So Howard’s dismissal comes as a surprise as it occurs just days before Tennessee’s game against Georgia considering the current state of the program.
Let’s be honest here, Butch Jones’ job is on the line. Three months ago, there was only a small contingent of Vols fans who had anything negative to say about the coach.
But now, the majority of the fan base is calling for his job after a disappointing 2-3 start. A start that comes before Tennessee plays its two biggest games — Georgia and Alabama — in a three-week span.
We don’t know what Howard did yet, but it’s obvious it must be something serious to cause this sudden dismissal, especially given that he missed two consecutive games due to a concussion. Tennessee is a program in shambles and this is the latest in a season full of disappointment.
The situation is similar to Auburn’s dismissal of wide receiver D’Haquille Williams earlier this week. A team that has struggled to live up to high expectations suddenly dismissed its leading receiver from the previous season for undisclosed reasons.
There’s no argument that Tennessee and Auburn are the two most disappointing teams in the SEC so far, given their high preseason expectations. But the Vols have held a double-digit lead in every game this season and still has a sub-.500 record.
Tennessee’s offense has looked like its been missing one piece all season. That piece may have been Howard, who is the best fit to excel on diversion plays and intermediate passes.
Josh Dobbs played best with the veteran receiver at his disposal. But, with a healthy Howard in Tennessee’s lineup, the quarterback has struggled to find a rhythm and convert on any pass beyond 10 yards.
Some may argue that a player’s dismissal diverts distraction. But personally, I think it does more harm to a team’s chemistry to part ways with a veteran that has strong bonds with other key players on the roster.
It doesn’t seem like the Vols’ season is going to make any sudden improvements. The team faces an opponent that is heavily favored to win its division and is coming off a blowout loss to Alabama.
Tennessee’s season is already a lost cause in the eyes of many Vols fans. The dismissal of Howard is the latest in a “what else can go wrong” 2015 campaign.