KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee is a healthier football team than last season when 17 starters missed games with injuries, and the Vols are certainly better off than they were at the Orange and White Game when 23 players were held out.
A strong summer weightlifting and conditioning program consisting of seven weeks with new strength and conditioning coach Rock Gullickson provided Tennessee with momentum entering into fall camp.
But things still aren’t ideal on Haslam Field.
Coach Butch Jones acknowledged on Tuesday that Tennessee is considering canceling a Saturday scrimmage on account of a couple of offensive linemen that have been held out of practice the past week.
“We need that competition, we were set to scrimmage on Saturday and we may change that based on where we’re at with the offensive line, because we need a full group to make it as competitive as possible,” Jones said. “Our defensive line needs it, our entire team needs it.”
Fifth-year senior and projected starting right tackle Brett Kendrick returned to practice on Tuesday, but freshman guard Trey Smith and sophomore offensive tackle Marcus Tatum remained sidelined by undisclosed injuries.
Smith is projected to start at right guard, while Tatum will push Kendrick at right tackle.
Offensive line coach Walt Wells and Jones both indicated Tatum and Smith will rejoin the team “shortly,” and that they are being held out for precautionary reasons.
The Vols aim to be as healthy as possible for the Sept. 4 opener against Georgia Tech.
Tennessee has the depth to overcome the loss of junior right tackle Chance Hall, who will undergo season-ending surgery as recently announced.
But the Vols are facing the annual challenge of balancing hitting and health, wanting to be as prepared as possible while also keeping everyone on the practice field.
Defensive starters return
Jones said projected starting middle linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr., who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in June, also returned to practice on Tuesday.
Kirkland Jr., who struggled to recover from a high ankle sprain last season and pulled his hamstring in spring drills, suffered a non-contact injury leading to the minor surgical procedure in the offseason.
Jones said outside linebacker Quart’e Sapp “is still very limited,” disappointing news, to be sure. Tennessee had hoped Sapp could bring his speed to the linebacking corps in fall drills after suffering a knee injury last September.
Senior cornerback Emmanuel Moseley, another of the 23 players who missed the Orange and White Game, was been cleared for all action on Tuesday after overcoming his shoulder injury, according to Jones.
Receiver Josh Smith was held out of Tuesday’s work as a precaution, Jones said, choosing not to identify the injury-riddled senior’s latest ailment.
Next man up
Jones said the players who have been elevated by injuries to other players must make the most of their opportunities.
“Everyone is putting their identity on video, so 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?”