By now you’ve likely heard Butch Jones and others discuss all the benefits of Tennessee making it to a bowl game – especially a Florida-based, January game such as the TaxSlayer Bowl.
Young players will get 15 extra practices to develop, the Vols will continue their on-campus strength and conditioning program over the break instead of players heading home for an extended period of time and the overall exposure should help program momentum and, of course, recruiting.
But before the Vols truly dive into all of that, getting some rest and rejuvenation for a worn-out team will be at the top of the list.
“First and foremost, we have to get our health back to our football team,” said head coach Butch Jones. “We talked about this continuously throughout the season about the inordinate amount of repetitions, the volume of repetitions, that our players have had to play with. We’ve had some injuries. We’ve had some individuals really trying to play.”
The injury bug hits every college football team to some extent as the season wears on, but it’s taken a toll on the Vols especially since Tennessee lacks the overall depth of many other major programs at this point and relies heavily on freshmen who may not be as physically developed as some of their SEC and other major conference peers.
Jones listed running back Jalen Hurd, receiver Josh Malone and tight end Daniel Helm among the freshmen who have been banged up at some level, but should be back at 100 percent for the TaxSlayer Bowl on Jan. 2. Jones also went to bat for Malone, the talented freshman who has struggled down the stretch and been eased out of the rotation. He indicated that the former five-star recruit hasn’t been physically right this season.
“One person who really goes unnoticed is Josh Malone,” said Jones. “Josh Malone has been going through some nagging injuries in a number of areas. Josh doesn’t say anything. He just tries to compete. I know its bothered him because he hasn’t been able to get out there and give everything that he has, but he’s attempted to give all that he has.
“He will give all that he has. He will have a great week of bowl preparation. We spoke about that with him doing his due diligence which he has in the training room. I know it has kind of bothered him just like all of the individuals that have been hurt. He’ll bounce back because he’s Josh Malone.”
Several veterans are battling through various levels of injury as well, including center Mack Crowder, defensive tackle Trevarris Saulsberry, receiver Johnathon Johnson, receiver Jason Croom, running back Marlin Lane and running back Devrin Young.
Young, a senior, is fighting for one more chance to see the field in his UT career after breaking multiple ribs against UTC on Oct. 11. He may not retain his job as the teams starting kickoff returner after the work that freshman Evan Berry has done in that role, but with the Vols low on running back depth, Young could get some touches in what would be his final collegiate game against the Hawkeyes.
“Devrin Young has been back in practice and it’s been great to have him back,” said Jones. “He’s not 100 percent yet, but he’s worked exceptionally hard. It’s a tribute to him that he’s been able to have a number of weeks off and step up and come in and not miss a beat. He adds another element, another dimension to our offense, so we need to continue to progress with him. I’m just very proud of him. It would have been very easy to just walk away and say, “I’m done.” He’s shown great resiliency; he’s persevered just like a lot of our players have and I’m very proud of him.”