KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt suspended Bryce Thompson indefinitely following the cornerback’s arrest on a misdemeanor domestic assault charge, issued a statement about student safety and now is letting the legal process play out.
“That’s all we’re going to talk about that for right now,” Pruitt said during his scheduled Monday news conference, referring to the statement he had released earlier. “We’re going to focus on this game, and for us, that’s what we can focus on.”
Thompson was arrested Saturday night after his girlfriend told police they began arguing when she found another woman’s false eyelashes in the player’s room. Thompson is scheduled to appear in court Sept. 3.
Pruitt said in his statement that “we hold our students to a high standard” and that “the safety of all students is our first priority here at Tennessee.”
Witnesses told police they heard Thompson threatening to slap a woman. One witness said he heard Thompson yelling he would “shoot up the school.” An additional witness told police he also heard a man yelling about plans to “shoot up the school” but said he couldn’t see who was saying that because his view was blocked.
Police say Thompson acknowledged arguing with the woman but denied making physical contact with her or issuing any threats.
The woman told police she couldn’t remember the “entirety of what had occurred” during the argument because it was a “stressful, volatile situation.” She said Thompson has a bad temper and had punched walls during previous arguments.
The suspension leaves Tennessee without one of its top returning defensive players heading into Saturday’s game. The Volunteers also will be playing without injured defensive back Baylen Buchanan and likely will be missing linebacker Daniel Bituli, the Vols’ leading tackler each of the last two seasons.
Buchanan has a spinal condition that makes his status for this season uncertain. Pruitt said Bituli underwent a “procedure” on his knee during preseason camp and noted Monday that it “would be pushing” it for the senior to be ready this week when the Vols open against Georgia Southern.
Thompson, a sophomore from Irmo, South Carolina, made 10 starts last season. He had three interceptions and seven pass breakups to lead the Volunteers in both categories.
Pro Football Focus, which grades and analyzes every player, gave Thompson the highest grade of any true freshman cornerback in the nation last season.
Thompson’s absence likely will create a bigger role for freshman Warren Burrell, who already figured to earn plenty of playing time after an impressive preseason camp. Tennessee’s unofficial projected depth chart lists Burrell and junior Shawn Shamburger as co-starters at one cornerback spot, with sophomore Alontae Taylor starting at the other spot.
The depth chart at cornerback also includes Kenneth George Jr. and freshman Jerrod Means, who moved over from receiver during preseason camp.
Tennessee’s other two big preseason questions remain unanswered.
Pruitt said it would be a game-time decision whether Trey Smith plays as the offensive lineman attempts to make a comeback. Smith missed Tennessee’s final five games last season after blood clots were found in his lungs.
“Our doctors and medical folks will continue to work hard to try to find a way to allow him the opportunity to play,” Pruitt said.
Defensive tackle Aubrey Solomon’s status also is uncertain as the Michigan transfer waits to learn whether the NCAA will grant him a waiver that enables him to play immediately rather than sitting out the season.
“We’re going to continue to practice like he’s going to play,” Pruitt said.
NOTES: Pruitt confirmed that defensive back Maleik Gray is transferring. Gray redshirted and appeared in one game last season. … Tennessee hasn’t decided whether redshirt freshman J.T. Shrout or freshman Brian Maurer will serve as quarterback Jarrett Guarantano’s main backup.
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