Tennessee may be getting some help for its embattled offensive line as soon as this week.
Jacob Gilliam (ACL) is preparing for a return to game action, sources close to the situation told Rocky Top Insider. There’s optimism that he could play as soon as this Saturday against UTC – though he’ll need a good week in practice before anything is official.
Gilliam, a redshirt senior who was the season-opening starter at left tackle, tore his ACL in the season opener against Utah State and was pronounced out for the season by coach Butch Jones on the following Monday. But the Farragut native has refused to take no for an answer in what is his final season of eligibility. He passed up on surgery, began rehab and started running at practice a few weeks ago and was in pads going through contact drills in practice last week.
“He said, ‘I’m not done,'” offensive line Don Mahoney said last week when describing Gilliam’s drive to return. “As long as I’m okay to participate, I want to give it a go. Of course with Coach Jones and myself, as long as the trainers and all that stuff is okay then we’ll make sure if he wants to give it a go, he can. He keeps wanting more, wanting more, wanting more. We just keep following the direction of the trainers and he’s moving around well. He refuses to sit out.”
Mahoney told RTI that he knew of no precedent of an offensive lineman playing on a torn ACL, though one example we found came in the 2012 season, when former New England Patriots lineman Logan Mankins played a 16-game schedule with the injury. Former Vanderbilt quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels played against UT last season with the injury as well.
It’s obviously too early to tell how that could effect the lineup or how effective Gilliam can be, but look for his return to come soon – possibly this weekend against the Mocs.
“His peers on this team are looking at him and they’re just shaking their heads,” Mahoney added. “That’s why this time for us as a program and personally as a position, I think this is exactly what these kids are about. They want to do well, they want to do whatever it takes and they’re working hard to see that happen.”