Tennessee Vols: Will UT Have Linebacker Depth Problems?

NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 30: Head coach Butch Jones coaches Cortez McDowell
NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 30: Head coach Butch Jones coaches Cortez McDowell /

The Tennessee Vols will be starting fall camp with a couple of important defensive players limited.

Tennessee Vols head coach Butch Jones met with the media on Friday and pointed out four players that are dealing with injury issues heading into fall camp.

Among those four players are Tennessee’s top two Mike linebackers — Darrin Kirkland Jr and Daniel Bituli.

(Offensive lineman Chance Hall and defensive tackle Shy Tuttle are the other two injured players that Jones mentioned.)

According to Jones, both Kirkland and Bituli will be “very, very limited”.

It’s obviously not good to start training camp down two important defensive players. The absence of Kirkland especially hurts. The junior linebacker is expected to be a big piece in the Vols’ defense in 2017. He’s an extremely smart player that’s capable of being the quarterback of the defense.

The good news, however, is that Kirkland could be a full go by the second week of camp. Jones said Kirkland is a week ahead of schedule, thanks to his hard work rehabbing.

With Kirkland out, Jones pointed out Dillon Bates, Quart’e Sapp and Cortez McDowell as players that would see extra opportunities. McDowell is expected to be the Vols’ primary weak side linebacker in 2017, but if Kirkland misses time, it could be a situation where McDowell slides over to play middle linebacker.

Jones also pointed out that McDowell has completely changed his body this off-season, which means he probably wouldn’t be a bad option at middle linebacker if something happens to Kirkland.

You might remember that Kirkland was an early enrollee as a freshman at Tennessee, but missed spring practice that year due to injury. It’s clear that staying healthy is going to consistently be an issue for Kirkland, which is a shame because he’s a terrific football player.

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The Vols dealt with plenty of injuries on the defensive side of the ball last season, hopefully their new strength and conditioning program will prevent a repeat of last season.

For what it’s worth, Jones said that outside of the four players he mentioned, everyone else will be a full go when camp starts.