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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee football has been in catch-up mode for a while now, chasing one injury after another, in some cases with a significant drop-off.
It all started when Darrin Kirkland Jr. got hurt against Virginia Tech in the second game of last season, then 2017 NFL draft picks Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Cam Sutton went down in the next game against Ohio.
By the time the 2016 season had ended, the Vols had lost five of their top six defensive tackles and missed a nation-high 52 starts due to injuries.
An eye-popping 23 Tennessee players missed the Orange-and-White spring game on account of injuries, and injuries in fall camp led Coach Butch Jones to cancel at least one scrimmage.
Eight of the Vols’ current starters have undergone surgical procedures in the past year and missed time on the practice field.
There’s no question that Tennessee has lacked the polish of opponents, and the team has been a work in progress since the opening kick.
The “now” of the injury/suspension report for Tennessee (* denotes starters):
Out for the season
- MLB Darrin Kirkland Jr. *
- WR Jauan Jennings *
- RT Chance Hall *
- SS Todd Kelly Jr. *
- OLB Cortez McDowell *
- OT K’Rohjn Calbert
- WR Jacquez Jones
Out for South Carolina
- DE Darrell Taylor (suspension) *
- KR/SS Evan Berry *
Questionable for South Carolina
- TE Jakob Johnson
The injuries have led to a lot of juggling in the starting lineup for Tennessee in what already figured to be a transition season with three-year starting quarterback Josh Dobbs moved on to the Pittsburgh Steelers as one of six players drafted into the NFL.
Tennessee has started with a different group of receivers and tight ends on the field in each of the five games, likely due to matchups.
But the most glaring lack of cohesion has been on the offensive line, where the Vols have started four different combinations in five games.
Tennessee football question of the day
What combination of starters will be on O-Line this week? — David Clay
Vols offensive coordinator Larry Scott said the plan is to stick with the group that started against Georgia.
That means Drew Richmond will start at left tackle, with Brett Kendrick at left guard, Jashon Robertson at center, Trey Smith at right guard and Marcus Tatum at right tackle.
Senior Coleman Thomas, junior Jack Jones and redshirt freshman Ryan Johnson figure to be the next three up in the rotation should Walt Wells decide to rotate players into the game.