Butch Jones’ history of vague injury updates certainly cause some skepticism among fans and media when it comes to figuring out who will be playing on a week-to-week basis.
It does, however, sound like the Vols have a legitimate chance to get some key pieces back for the game at Missouri on Saturday that have been missing over the past few weeks. Jones gave an injury update on Wednesday afternoon that sounded a bit more positive than it has in recent weeks.
“Right now we fully anticipate everyone being ready to go,” Jones told reporters on Wednesday. “Brett Kendrick was back, he practiced – went through the entire practice. Preston Williams practiced, we held Kenny Bynum out, but he’ll be probably the one who will be questionable. Jauan Jennings was very, very limited, we kept him in the training room a little bit, but we fully anticipate him being ready to go. In terms of health, Jashon Robertson made it through the entire practice, so as of right now we anticipate everyone playing or being available to play.”
Practice is key for Kendrick, Robertson and Williams in particular. Jones, generally speaking, seems to avoid playing players who are extremely limited or absent from practice. We haven’t seen much from that group of players on the practice field over the past few weeks, but the report that they’re back on the practice field getting reps is a very encouraging sign for a Tennessee team looking for some reinforcements for a physical two-game stretch to end the season against Missouri and Vanderbilt.
With those players, in addition to Marquez North, missing virtually all of the past few games, Tennessee’s injury list, which also includes the more long-term injured group of Jason Croom, Curt Maggitt, Quart’e Sapp, Shy Tuttle, Vincent Perry, Kyle Phillips, Marcus Jackson and others, Jones said it’s been a challenge this year that he hasn’t faced in the past.
“Never had a season like this in terms of all the injuries that we’ve been through, particularly a couple position groups have been hit the hardest,” he said. “But I think that’s a testament to their resolve, to their resiliency.”
High praise for Kerbyson: One of the more unsung players this year has offensive tackle Kyler Kerbyson, who, after a winding career that has seen him work at every position on the offensive line, is playing his most consistent football as the starting left tackle.
“The best thing I can say about Kyler Kerbyson is he’s a rock of stability,” Jones said on Wednesday.” He’s been very, very consistent each and every day from his approach to practice to his approach to gameday. He’s worked exceptionally hard. He’s worked on his technique, his pad level, his strength. Love everything about him. Love what he stands for, love what his family stands for. Here’s an individual who has paid his dues in this football program…
“Kyler Kerbyson plays the game because he loves football and he’s been through so much in his career, he’s experienced so much in his Tennessee career. Just stability, consistency of approach and I think he’s grateful for the opportunity to be able to represent the University of Tennessee in what it stands for on and off the field. He’s as good of an ambassador as we have in our football program.”
Balancing NFL opportunities: With the season winding down and a few Tennessee players potentially facing questions about if they should enter the NFL draft early or stay for their senior season, Jones said he hasn’t noticed that being an issue or a distraction for the likes of Cam Sutton, Jalen Reeves-Maybin and others.
“Really as of today, that has not been one issue with this football team,” he said. “That’s the exciting thing – the maturity that they’ve displayed and shown throughout the course of the year.”
“In terms of the NFL, you want players that are NFL-caliber, that’s what this program has been based on – great NFL players and making them NFL-ready when they leave here,” Jones added. “But also, we have a whole NFL educational program and it’s all about the betterment of the individuals, but you know, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there, but there’s a difference of just leaving and being a first 15 pick in the draft or second, third, fourth rounds. A lot of times it’s better to stay and be part of something special, and I think every individual in our program right now understands that they’re part of something special. We’re building something better right now.”