An already thin running back stable has taken another hit this spring for Tennessee with the recent absence of junior Marlin Lane for disciplinary reasons.
Lane missed his fourth practice Wednesday morning, but first-year coach Butch Jones said the door remains open for Lane to return to the team, and expressed optimism that he would be back and able to play in the fall.
"He has some criteria that has to be met, and he's meeting that criteria," Jones said. "But as of right now, he's still out."
Lane and senior Rajion Neal were being counted on to handle the bulk of the Vols' rushing duties in 2013. Neal rushed for 708 yards last season and Lane 658 yards. Lane averaged 5.5 yards per carry.
Redshirt freshman Alden Hill has seen his workload increase this spring with Lane suspended. Jones said both Hill and Neal had performed well this spring, but it's obvious the Vols are going to need to build depth at running back.
Neal said he's remained in touch with Lane, who is still on campus.
"I know he's dealing with a sensitive matter," Neal said. "I see him, call him and talk to him. I hope that he gets back quick."
The Vols improved their running game by an average of 60 yards per game last season (160.3 ypg) after finishing 116th nationally in 2011 with an average of 90.1 yards per game.