Tennessee getting healthier and younger up front
The bye week came at just the right time, according to Tennessee coach Butch Jones.
“We fully anticipate everyone back,” Jones said during his weekly press conference on Monday. “I’ll know a little bit more health-wise on Wednesday.”
The Vols play No. 8 Alabama on Saturday in Tuscaloosa at 3:30 p.m. ET. Senior offensive lineman Mack Crowder and sophomore Jashon Robertson are expected to be available. Lower leg injuries forced both linemen out of the UGA game on Oct. 10. The Vols were also without right tackle Brett Kendrick (arm) who was held out of the game.
When asked if any of the injured players would automatically regain their first-team spot, Jones didn’t commit. The injuries opened the door for freshmen Jack Jones and Chance Hall. Jones filled in at right guard while Hall took over at right tackle after the injuries. Starting right guard Dylan Wiesman moved to left guard. Butch Jones said he’d determine who will play later in the week.
“Those individuals will get valuable repetitions all week,” Jones said, referring to Jack Jones and Hall.
With Jones and Hall in the game, Tennessee ran the ball effectively and came back from a 21-point deficit to beat UGA 38-31.
Butch Jones said he would also need another freshman to continue to elevate his game– defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie. He is just one of four defensive tackles who have seen significant playing time this season. The Vols are without freshman defensive tackle Shy Tuttle, who suffered a season-ending ankle injury against the Bulldogs.
Butch Jones said McKenzie played his best game as a Vol against UGA. He also pointed out that McKenzie did not play football last season because of a high school transfer rule and was limited in preseason camp because of injury. Butch Jones said McKenzie’s stamina and confidence has improved during the season.
“He’s getting into that structure and that routine,” Jones said. “You can see him getting better and better and better.”
Jones said receiver Jason Croom will be out of Saturday’s Alabama game. He is recovering from preseason knee surgery.