KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Nearly lost in the shuffle of the Jalen Hurd circus Monday is the fact Tennessee is running out of defensive tackles.
Butch Jones confirmed SEC Country’s report that sophomore Shy Tuttle suffered a season-ending right knee injury in the 24-21 defeat at South Carolina.
“I really, really feel for that young man,” Jones said, noting that Tuttle sustained a season-ending injury in 2015 with a broken leg and torn ankle ligaments.
“He had worked so hard to get himself back into playing condition. He worked so hard and so diligently in the training room. … He’ll miss the rest of the season. He’ll go through rehab throughout the course of spring practice. We’ll see how it goes.”
Tuttle becomes Tennessee’s third defensive tackle to be lost for the year, joining Kahlil McKenzie (torn pectoral) and Danny O’Brien (dismissal). The 6-foot-2, 311-pound sophomore hasn’t quite looked the same since returning from his brutal injury against Georgia last season, recording just 9 tackles in seven games in 2016.
When defensive coordinator Bob Shoop strolled into his media availability Monday, he quipped, “I actually thought you guys were here for the tryout.”
Shoop continues to search for answers inside, as the Volunteers are running out of bodies while teams are attacking Tennessee’s lack of depth in the front-seven.
“I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it,” Shoop said.
“Obviously, Kahlil, Shy. We’ve had players out with injuries. Players (Danny O’Brien, Alexis Johnson) out with suspensions. It’s a challenging situation, but my job is to solve problems.”
Tennessee has received solid production from redshirt junior Kendal Vickers, and perhaps most encouragingly, Shoop, as well as All-American pass rusher Derek Barnett, has been pleasantly surprised by Kyle Phillips the last two weeks.
Traditionally an end, the 6-foot-4, 260-pound sophomore tallied a career-high 5 tackles playing exclusively inside against South Carolina. Phillips had a tackle for loss, too — just the second of his career. Tennessee first began experimenting Phillips at defensive tackle out of pure necessity against Alabama.
“I’m proud of Kyle,” Barnett said.
“He came in and didn’t ask no questions. He has been making plays every since he’s been at the 3-technique. He played real good. He was disruptive. Even if he didn’t get a sack, he still opened up a sack for somebody else. Kyle is doing a great job. He comes to work everyday. He’s taking advantage of his opportunity.”
Shoop noted that Phillips’ recent transition has been a great example of selflessness for the rest of Tennessee’s depleted defense.
“I’ve never seen so many injuries, but guys continue to step up and do their best,” he said.
“I’m still very excited about Kendal Vickers. He had a sack the other day, which was very, very good. Kyle Phillips was a bright spot for us. He moved inside and did very, very well. We’ll play Quay Picou and hopefully we’ll get Alexis Johnson in there as well.”