KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — With dynamic kick returner Evan Berry sidelined for the rest of the season with a knee injury, Tennessee is suddenly searching for another new starter at an important position.
Berry was among the most explosive returners in the country over the last two years, taking four kickoffs to the house in the past 19 games.
“I’m not going to sit up here and tell you he isn’t going to be missed,” Vols coach Butch Jones said.
“He’s gonna be missed.”
Berry — a preseason All-American — ranks second nationally in kickoff returns in 2016, averaging 32.9 yards per touch. The junior helped setup the ‘Hail Mary Between the Hedges’ with a heady return and he went 101-yards for a touchdown at South Carolina two weeks ago.
Jones said Tennessee will experiment with several different options in practice this week as it prepares for Saturday’s game against Kentucky (noon, SEC Network).
Freshman receiver Tyler Byrd returned a kickoff 31 yards in the rout over Tennessee Tech, while safety Micah Abernathy has the most experience (5 returns for 108 yards) lining up as Berry’s second option on normal kickoffs.
Jones also mentioned repping freshman cornerback Marquill Osborne and sophomore tailback John Kelly. Interesting, freshman receiver Marquez Callaway, who returned a punt for a touchdown against Tennessee Tech, was not named as a potential option.
With the Volunteers depleted depth at tailback, Kelly, now the team’s starter, seems like more of an emergency replacement, but Jones wouldn’t rule out anything Monday.
“We’ll put the best individual out there,” he said.
“Our kickoff return team needs to step up now. The other 10 individuals. They’ve done a great job all year and we’re going to have to do an even better job moving forward. But we have some very capable individuals that we have a lot of confidence in back there.”