KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — It’s hardly a newsflash that Tennessee lost several starters to injury last season, and that it affected the Vols as the season progressed.
But it’s important to put those numbers into perspective and understand the ramifications of them.
Tennessee opened the season 5-0 and was ranked in the Top 10 for the first time in 10 years before the defensive tackle position was devastated in October and the run defense diminished.
Indeed, at some point 17 starters missed games on account of injuries last season, and Phil Steele’s preseason magazine documents that the Vols were indeed the most damaged FBS team in the country.
But those 17 starters being out presented playing opportunities for 17 others.
Many of those second- and third-team players weren’t ready for the bright lights of SEC road games at South Carolina and Vanderbilt last season, but that playing time will help them this season.
Tennessee has had a spate of injuries at right tackle this preseason — 4 players at the position have already missed time, two out of for the season.
Butch Jones says others need to take advantage of the reps they get.
“The individuals who are gaining an inordinate amount of repetitions, that’s a great opportunity,” Jones said. “It’s in your mindset in how you approach it.
“Are you trying to survive the day, or are you trying to put your identity and solidify yourself as one of the individuals that we can count on play in and play?”
Last season, the final count — lest any revisionist historians attempt to downplay what players like Josh Dobbs and Derek Barnett were able to overcome — was staggering:
• Tennessee started 7 different O-Line combinations
• Tennessee started 7 different D-Line combinations
• Tennessee started 8 different linebacker corps
• Tennessee started 11 different secondary combinations
Those who call last season a disappointment, however, likely don’t understand the relativity of Tennessee’s injuries compared with other programs.
Power 5 teams most starts missed due to injury
(per Phil Steele Magazine)
1 Tennessee 52 starts missed, 9-4, No. 22
Syracuse 50 starts missed, 4-8
Oklahoma 44 starts missed, 11-2, No. 5
Wisconsin 41 starts missed, 11-3, No. 9
5 Utah 40 starts missed, 9-4, No. 23
Arizona 39 starts missed, 3-9
Florida 38 starts missed, 9-4, No. 14
Penn State 36 starts missed, 11-3 No. 7
Ole Miss 35 starts missed, 5-7
10 Oregon 34 starts missed, 4-8
Missouri 34 starts missed, 4-8
Purdue 33 starts missed, 3-9
Michigan State 33 starts missed, 3-9
West Virginia 33 starts missed, 10-3, No. 18
15 LSU 32 starts missed, 8-4, No. 13
Arizona State 32 starts missed, 5-7
Miami, Fla., 31 starts missed, 9-4, No. 20
Kansas 31 starts missed, 2-10
Wake Forest 31 starts missed, 7-6
20 North Carolina 31 starts missed, 8-5
Florida State 31 starts missed, 10-3, No. 8
UCLA 27 starts missed, 4-8
Iowa 27 starts missed, 8-5
Stanford 26 starts missed, 10-3, No. 12
25 Texas Tech 25 starts missed, 5-7