Safety Janzen Jackson and receiver Nu'Keese Richardson, two of coach Lane Kiffin's most prized signees from his first recruiting class, were among three Tennessee football players arrested early Thursday morning in Knoxville on charges of attempted armed robbery.
The third player arrested is also a freshman, defensive back Mike Edwards. It was not immediately clear if the players have attorneys.
According to a Knoxville City Police report, the arrests stemmed from an attempted robbery outside a convenience store near campus. A powered pellet gun was recovered in the players' car after they were stopped by police near the Gibbs Hall dormitory on campus, where the Vols' freshman football players live.
At least one of the players arrested was wearing some type of Tennessee gear during the attempted robbery, according to police.
A fourth suspect, a woman alleged to have been driving a car with the three players as passengers, was also arrested.
"At this time we are currently evaluating the circumstances surrounding an incident involving Mike Edwards, Janzen Jackson and Nu'Keese Richardson," Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton said in a prepared statement. "Any decisions or comments regarding their status will not be made until the evaluations are complete."
Don Bosch, an attorney representing Jackson, said his client has been released from jail and maintains his innocence.
"As of this afternoon his bond has been reduced from $15,000 to being released on his recognizance," Bosch told WBIR-TV in Knoxville. "Mr. Jackson vehemently asserts his innocence. And we hope that this will become apparent in the next 24 to 48 hours."
Richardson was being held Thursday afternoon on a $19,500 bond. Edwards was released on a $19,500 bond.
Kiffin discussed the players' arrest after Thursday afternoon's practice.
"We've got to get the information in, so we're not going to make any judgments until we have all that information," Kiffin said. "Then we'll go from there once we get it."
Kiffin declined to comment specifically about the players' status for Saturday's game at Ole Miss.
As recently as Wednesday, during the SEC coaches teleconference, Kiffin had praised his team for not having any off-the-field problems during his tenure and had repeated several times this year that the Vols had been free of any such incidents.
Jackson had started in all but two games this season for the Vols and had emerged as one of the better freshman players in the SEC. He was suspended for last week's Memphis game for what Kiffin said was a violation of team rules. According to two sources, that suspension came on the heels of a failed drug test.
There was some speculation a week ago that Richardson might be considering a transfer when he wasn't at a practice, but Kiffin said there were no issues and that everything was fine. Richardson scored a touchdown in the Vols' 56-28 win over Memphis last week.
Richardson, of Pahokee, Fla., was at the center of Kiffin's dustup with Florida coach Urban Meyer last February. Richardson had been committed to Florida for some time, but switched to Tennessee on signing day. The next day, at a Tennessee recruiting breakfast, Kiffin made his comments alleging Meyer cheated to get Richardson and still wasn't able to sign him. Kiffin was reprimanded by the SEC for those comments.
According to the police report, the victims of the robbery were in their car outside a Pilot convenience store, parked next to a Toyota Prius, when a black male approached wearing a hooded sweatshirt, brandishing what appeared to be a handgun, opened the driver's side door and said "Give me everything you have." A second black male also wearing a hooded sweatshirt then came around to the passenger side of the victims' car, opened it and said, "Give us everything you've got."
But when the victims opened their wallets and showed they had no money, a third black male approached the other two and said "we've got to go," and all three got into the Prius and drove away, according to the police report.
Police said when they pulled over the Prius, they found a black air-powered pellet gun and a pair of hooded sweatshirts. Police also said they found a marijuana grinder, which the driver, Marie Montmarquet, said belonged to her, and a baggie containing what appeared to be marijuana in Montmarquet's jacket.
According to police, the victims later identified Edwards and Richardson as the men who had approached them.
Chris Low covers SEC football for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report. More information and video is available from VolunteerTV.com