KNOXVILLE — Two weeks after he was linked to a campus theft, Tennessee defensive back Deion Bonner is in trouble again.
The freshman was suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules, Tennessee associate athletic director for communication Jimmy Stanton told the Times Free Press on Thursday.
The 5-foot-11, 178-pounder missed Thursday morning's practice. He was named as a suspect in the campus theft of a cellphone three days before the Volunteers hosted Troy. No charges were brought against him, though, and university police closed the case last week.
Two days after Bonner dressed for the game against the Trojans, Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said the evidence presented to him was "of no issue," which would indicate that Bonner's latest run-in with trouble stems from an unrelated incident.
When Tennessee signed Bonner in February, it did so well aware of the red flags and risk that came with the four-star prospect from Carver High School in Columbus, Ga. In April 2011, Bonner was arrested and charged for his involvement with two others for theft of iPods and iPhones valued at nearly $2,000 from the lockers of seven Georgia football players during a campus visit. The host of schools recruiting him backed off, and Bonner was suspended for most of his senior season.
At his signing day news conference, Dooley explained the decision to sign a recruit with baggage.
"We did a lot of diligence on the situation," he said. "Deion was incredibly truthful, he was incredibly remorseful and I don't know of a high school player who had to pay the piper more for what they did than what he had to go through. He had an absolute public disparagement.
"Everybody stopped recruiting him, and it was tough. It was incredibly the maturity level that he showed. I believe that he can come in and represent Tennessee the right way and learn from his mistakes and be a great example.
"It's not the norm, but we felt like given the diligence that we did on him [he was worthy of signing]. Of course, he's a good football player -- let's don't deny that -- at a key position. We felt willing to take the risk."
Bonner has played in just six games this season, and his last appearance came against South Carolina. His suspension continues a difficult season for Vols' freshmen. Ten have played, but only three -- safety LaDarrell McNeil, receiver Alton "Pig" Howard and cornerback Daniel Gray -- have started games.
In August, linebackers Kenny Bynum and LaTroy Lewis tore knee ligaments, kicker George Bullock broke his leg and tailback Davante Bourque left the program. Defensive linemen Trent Taylor and Omari Phillips haven't been practicing with the team. Receiver Jason Croom and defensive back Tino Thomas underwent in-season shoulder surgeries.
Remember the fourth
When Tennessee's offense reflects on this season, the Vols likely will rue multiple missed chances in fourth quarters. Against Georgia, Mississippi State and South Carolina, one touchdown would have tied or won the game. Better four-minute offense or another score would have kept last week's four-overtime loss to Missouri from happening.
"We had a lot of opportunities to win the games," receiver Justin Hunter said. "We could have changed our record around. I think with more poise and more calm coming into the fourth quarter, we could have finished off a lot of games better."
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said staying poised in crunch time is something every team he's coached has needed but said the final-quarter shortcomings have been caused by poor execution more than any other factor.
"Obviously we haven't been able to close out the games we'd like to in the fourth quarter," he said. "I just think execution just is exactly what it is. You just go out and you've got to concentrate on the details, and when you lose poise and composure, sometimes those things go by the wayside.
"You're just got to keep working on it, and I don't know what other thing to do but that."
The Vols' defensive staff all said the game-day changes used against Missouri last week paid off.
"It was a smooth operation," cornerbacks coach Derrick Ansley said. "The first half we played as good as I thought we could have played. A play here or a play there, the outcome's different.
"You wish you could go back and take plays out of the tape, but you can't."
With defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri calling the defense next to safeties coach Josh Conklin in the coaches' box, graduate assistant and former junior college coordinator Brandon Staley signaling in those calls and Ansley handling substitutions, Tennessee held Missouri to 64 first-half yards.
Before the Tigers' tying drive, in which they twice converted fourth-and-long situations, Tennessee allowed just 295 yards of offense, well below the season average of 480. The Vols couldn't stop Missouri in any overtime, though, and that skewed the numbers.
"Defensively, we thought as a staff we played our best football up to that point as far as everything being real clean and crisp for us," Conklin said. "I think our guys came out and really understood what they were doing. I think production, that's exactly what you want.
"Like we did all week, everybody's giving their input and making their decisions, and it was good."
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...