GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Tennessee senior safety Todd Kelly Jr., the leading tackler last season, will not play Saturday at Florida on account of a potential season-ending knee injury, sources told SEC Country.
Kelly Jr., had an MRI taken on his left knee on Thursday and received results on Friday that revealed a condition that will sideline him.
The No. 23-ranked Vols play the No. 24-ranked Gators at 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS.
Kelly Jr., originally sustained the injury in 2016 during fall camp. He played through it his junior year, wearing a knee brace that contributed to him appearing a step slower than his first two seasons at Tennessee.
Still, Kelly recorded a team-high 71 tackles and tied for the team lead with 2 interceptions, starting 11 of 12 games.
Kelly was not expected to play against Vanderbilt last season, but when starter Stephen Griffin suffered an injury, the Knoxville, Tenn., native was forced into action, his ankle also heavily taped.
Neither Kelly nor the Tennessee coaching staff realized the potential severity of the knee injury/condition last season or in the practices and games leading up to the disappointing revelation Friday.
The former Webb School of Knoxville standout dropped 10 pounds in the offseason in an effort to regain his speed, but the knee injury continued to plague him.
Kelly Jr., is expected to get a second opinion before any final decisions are made.
The Vols have lost two other defensive starters to injury this season.
Middle linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr., underwent season-ending knee surgery in August, and projected starting strongside linebacker Austin Smith suffered a knee injury in August that he has yet to return from this season.
Kelly Jr., was one of seven returning starters from the defense that shut down Florida in the second half of a 38-28 victory last season at Neyland Stadium.
Many were caught off guard that Kelly didn’t start either of the first two games this season and played sparingly, unaware that the knee injury was still a factor.
Kelly Jr., a top 100 player and U.S. Army All-American in high school, has been integral to coach Butch Jones’ ability to rebuild the program.
Kelly Jr., was the catalyst for Tennessee signing several of the top in-state talent in the 2014 class, reaching out to them during the recruiting process and encouraging them to help rebuild the Vols’ program.
Sources confirmed Kelly Jr., did not make the trip to Florida with the team on Friday afternoon.