KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee coach Butch Jones said field position will have much to do with how Saturday’s game against Kentucky plays out.
Problem is, but Jones is still sorting out the Vols’ return game.
Freshman Marquez Callaway shined handling the punt return duties in the 55-0 win over Tennessee Tech last Saturday with a 62-yard return for a touchdown and a 52-yarder.
“(Callaway) is one of those individuals that’s competing for that spot and obviously had a very big return for us,” Jones said Wednesday night on his VolCalls coaches radio show on the Vol Network. “He’ll share some duties with reps with that.”
Alvin Kamara, who leads the SEC in punt returns with a 9.68-yard average, has not played since the Oct. 15 Alabama game and will be a game-time decision for Saturdays’ noon kick against the Wildcats at Neyland Stadium.
Jones clarified why he has said Kamara and preseason All-SEC cornerback are game-time decisions even though they’ve practiced all week.
“We’ll see how they warm up and go, but they have practiced every single day and they have been in there with the ones and twos,” Jones said. “There’s a difference between being ready and being prepared.
“All evidence right now is they are prepared and ready to go.”
Kick return duties are also up for grabs for the Vols after Evan Berry, who ranked No. 2 in the country this year and led the nation last year, suffered a season-ending knee injury in the win over the Golden Eagles last Saturday.”
“We’ll have a number of individuals compete for those spots,” Jones said.
The Vols head coach discussed the importance of defensive tackles Kendal Vickers and Kyle Phillips on his show Wednesday night, saying “we’ll need a warrior effort from them.”
Vickers is the standard size for a defensive tackle at 295 pounds, but Phillips is undersized at 259, having moved inside from defensive end on account of the team’s needs.
Tennessee dismissed starter Danny O’Brien, and then Kahlil McKenzie and Shy Tuttle suffered season-ending injuries in successive weeks in replacing O’Brien in the starting lineup.
Vickers said on Monday that the team talked to junior college transfer Jonathan Kongbo about moving inside to help the team, and that Kongbo had taken the opportunity.
But Jones revealed on Wednesday that Kongbo was having some issues with “buying into the team concept,” a not-so-veiled reference to the 6-6, 284-pounder’s reluctance to move inside for the betterment of the team.
Kongbo has five total tackles on the season as a back-up defensive end, and none in the five SEC games.
Further, the No. 1-ranked JUCO recruit in the 2016 class has put out some cryptic tweets on his Twitter account over the past two weeks.
Following the South Carolina loss, Kongbo tweeted a pair of cleats hanging up with the message that “all things must come to an end.”
Jones said he talked to Kongbo about the tweet and it was in reference to a FIFA video game he had lost.
But on Tuesday morning, Kongbo tweeted a poll question asking if you would stay with an organization if you knew they had done you wrong.
Some supposed it was because Kongbo had moved inside to help the team after being recruited to play defensive end.
Fifth-year senior LaTroy Lewis, a 6-4, 256-pounder, said Wednesday that he would move inside from defensive end to defensive tackle to help the team.
Jones was also asked about the vacated starting safety position on his coaches’ show, for Berry had started the last two games at free safety in addition to returning kicks,
“Nigel Warrior is doing a great job for us and T.K. (Todd Kelly) has been steady for us back there,” Jones said. “We also expect to have Micah Abernathy back.”