KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee coach Butch Jones said middle linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. is “doubtful” for the Vols 3:30 p.m. game against Florida on Saturday.
Kirkland, one of Tennessee’s two defensive “enforcers” according to coordinator Bob Shoop, suffered a high ankle sprain in the Vols’ 45-24 win over Virginia Tech on Sept. 10 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
“I would say it’s doubtful right now, but we’ll see how it progresses and how the week progresses as well,” Jones said on his coaching show on Sunday.
“Right now we have a team that’s trying to will themselves to win.“
The Vols finished their 28-19 win over Ohio missing five defensive starters.
In addition to Kirkland, senior defensive end LaTroy Lewis (ankle) was injured against Virginia Tech and didn’t play against the Bobcats, and neither did nickleback Malik Foreman, who was suspended.
Two more defensive starters went down with injuries in Saturday’s win over the Bobcats.
Cornerback Cam Sutton suffered a lower right leg injury that’s expected to put him out for an extended amount of time, while linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin is “questionable” with a shoulder injury.
Jones said he likes his team’s resiliency, however.
“You look at Justin Martin, who wasn’t even supposed to play, hurt his ankle in practice,” Jones said, referring to the talented but inconsistent backup cornerback. “At halftime he goes in and gets dressed, and comes out and says, ‘Coach if you need me, I’ll give everything I have.. “
The Vols turned to true freshman Baylen Buchanan instead.
Jones indicated he will provide updates on Monday of the injured players, including offensive tackle Chance Hall and receiver Josh Smith.
Hall underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in August, and his return date was targeted for the Florida game.
Smith, the starting slot receiver, missed Saturday’s game after Jones said he “tweaked” his ankle in practice last week.