KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Butch Jones doesn’t want to talk about injuries, but as Tennessee’s training room continues to add bodies, injuries are the only conversation around the football complex right now.
The No. 18 Volunteers have been beset by the normal bumps and bruises following a grueling four-game gauntlet, but they’ve also dealt with season-ending ailments to some of their best players.
Jones confirmed SEC Country’s report that sophomore defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie will miss the rest of the season with a torn pectoral, but the fourth-year head coach was reluctant to comment on tailback Alvin Kamara’s health or address the rest of Tennessee’s walking wounded.
“Respect our players and our program,” Jones said.
“These are young adults that have families and there’s too much out there. Some inaccurate. Some accurate. But I’m asking (the media) that you start respecting our players.
“I’ve spent an hour on the phone this morning, dealing with families of players of inaccurate information of things that are out there. These are kids. I’m here to protect our program and our players. That’s what it’s all about. … I ask that you give them the privacy and let us prepare to win football games.”
After getting steamrolled by No. 1 Alabama 49-10 on Saturday, Tennessee has a much-needed idle date before traveling to South Carolina on Oct. 29.
Much of the next week will be spent in the training room, hoping to rehab a slew of starters back into good health.
UPDATED: Tennessee's M.A.S.H. unit. 17 players who have started at least one game for Volunteers. pic.twitter.com/hA2USL6KMk
— Jesse Re Simonton (@JesseReSimonton) October 18, 2016
The Volunteers ended the Alabama loss without four of their normal starting offensive lineman, with left guard Jack Jones gutting through a hand injury to remain in the game. Jones underwent surgery Monday and is expected to return to action against the Gamecocks.
“We anticipate most of our players being ready (for South Carolina),” Jones said.
“But it’s one of those years. … I’ve never been through a year of this in my coaching career. It’s a great opportunity for your program to show their resiliency.”
Many have tried to pinpoint the cause of the rash of injuries this season, noting the fact the Volunteers made a move promoting Michael Szerszen to director of strength and conditioning — parting ways with longtime Jones lieutenant Dave Lawson during the offseason.
However, Jones dismissed the notion that the change in the S&C program is any way related, noting Tennessee actually upped is preventative maintenance at the beginning of the year.
“We research and do our due diligence on everything in our program,” Jones explained, also detailing how the Vols have invested in additional sports science and things like customized ankle braces in 2016.
“If you have a particular problem in one area, it’ll show in terms of the volume of injuries in one specific area. The crazy thing this year is it’s not been one specific area.”