KNOXVILLE, Tenn. —Junior college transfer Alexis Johnson will likely make his Tennessee debut against Alabama with news of the dismissal of fifth-year senior Danny O’Brien.
The No. 9-ranked Vols (5-1, 2-1 SEC) are a banged-up team heading into their 3:30 p.m. game on Saturday against No. 1-ranked Alabama (6-0, 3-0).
Nine starters were sidelined by the end of Tennessee’s 45-38 double-overtime loss at Texas A&M last Saturday.
Monday night’s news that O’Brien, a starting defensive tackle, had been dismissed ’caught may off guard and further thinned Tennessee’s defensive ranks.
Coach Butch Jones said Monday that linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin (shoulder), who has been sidelined since the second half of the Sept. 24 Florida game, was still exploring options.
There have been reports that Reeves-Maybin’s injury is season-ending, but Jones has asked media and fans not to speculate on his injury and allow the senior the privacy to make a decision in the best interest of his family.
The Vols have also been playing without middle linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. (ankle) and cornerback Cam Sutton (ankle).
Backup linebacker Quart’e Sapp was lost to a season-ending injury in the Sept. 17 win over Ohio, and linebacker Cortez McDowell was knocked out of last Saturday’s 45-38 double-overtime loss to Texas A&M with an undisclosed injury.
McDowell is currently the team’s third-leading tackler behind safety Todd Kelly Jr. (39) and middle linebacker Colton Jumper (39).
Kirkland Jr. could be back this week, but Sutton’s ankle fracture might also be of the season-ending variety.
O’Brien suffered a potentially serious injury in the loss to the Aggies and was removed from the field on a body board. After being taken to the hospital for observation, he was released and traveled back to Knoxville with the team late Saturday night.
Kendal Vickers, who started the game at defensive tackle beside O’Brien, was temporarily taken out of the game with an undisclosed injury.
Vickers is the leading tackler among the defensive tackles with 19 stops along with a 4.5 tackles-for-loss, which are second on the team to All-SEC end Derek Barnett.
Johnson was a mid-term enrollee in January, but he was suspended throughout spring drills. His suspension was lifted on Aug. 18 after a UT student judicial panel ruled that previous student conduct charges against him were unfounded.
The 6-foot-4, 297-pound Johnson, who is from Mount Zion High School in Jonesboro, Ga., spent the past two seasons at Fort Scott Community College in Kansas.
The amount of snaps Johnson gets against the Crimson Tide will likely be determined by the extent of Vickers’ injury.
Defensive tackles Khalil McKenzie and Shy Tuttle could start against Alabama if Vickers is limited.
Jones said Monday that, “We thought Shy Tuttle and Kahlil McKenzie played their best football,” against he Aggies.
Junior college transfer Jonathan Kongbo also took snaps at defensive tackle against Texas A&M. Kongbo can also play defensive end, but the Vols have considerably more depth at that position this season.
Jones emphasized on Monday that he continues to be impressed with his team’s resiliency and the way players have responded in the “next man up” role.
“We talk about the next man up, and that seems to be the mantra,” Jones said. “You think about all the injuries this team is facing … I think they’ve done a good job responding.”
Tennessee’s injury report
* Cornerback Cam Sutton (broken ankle) – OUT
* Linebacker Cortez McDowell (undisclosed) – TBD
* Center Dylan Wiesman (head/neck) – TBD
* Guard Jashon Robertson (undisclosed) – TBD
* Tailback Jalen Hurd (undisclosed) – TBD
* Linebacker Darrin Kirkland (high-ankle sprain) – TBD
Also, defensive tackle Kendal Vickers along with defensive backs Malik Foreman, Emmanuel Mosley, Evan Berry and Micah Abernathy were injured during the Texas A&M game but were able to return to the field.
Defensive tackle Danny O’Brien(dismissed)
I take full responsibility. I’m grateful for my teammates, coaches, and Vol nation. It has been and honor to help bring this program back.
— Danny O’Brien (@dandiesel13) October 11, 2016