Tennessee has been banged up throughout the first half of the 2021 season. That continued Saturday against South Carolina when four Vol starters weren’t able to play.
First year head coach Josh Heupel updated the health of those players Monday, saying that linebacker Juwan Mitchell will miss the rest of the season with a shoulder injury.
Heupel was more optimistic talking about the rest of the banged up Vols. When asked about the status of Jabari Small, Cooper Mays, Theo Jackson and Tiyon Evans— who exited Saturday’s game with a leg injury— Heupel provided a positive update.
“I believe that all the guys that weren’t able to play this past week will have an opportunity to be back with us this week,” Heupel said.
Heupel’s quote may not be breathtaking, but for a coach that has essentially provided zero injury updates in his weekly press conferences— this is about as positive an update as Tennessee fans could have hoped for.
Mays is Tennessee’s starting center but has played only sparingly this season due to injuries. The younger Mays brother left the Bowling Green game with an injury before returning to the starting lineup against Florida.
The former Knoxville Catholic standout exited the Florida game with an injury and missed the last two games against Missouri and South Carolina. If Mays is able to play Saturday, Jerome Carvin will slide back to his left guard spot and Ollie Lane won’t start.
The South Carolina game marked the first all season Jackson missed. Jackson’s replacement Brandon Turnage was fantastic against the Gamecocks, recording 14 tackles on his way to earning SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors.
Still, Jackson’s return would be a major boost for the Vols. The senior nickelback has been fantastic this season, recording 37 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss in five games.
What Tennessee does with Turnage if Jackson returns to the STAR spot is unknown, but Heupel didn’t rule out playing both at the same time Monday.
“They both have the ability to move to different spots and perform at a very high level,” Heupel said.
Then there’s Tennessee’s running back duo of Tiyon Evans and Jabari Small. Evans has been one of the SEC’s best backs this season, recording 486 yards and six touchdowns in five games.
The sophomore Small has battled injuries this season too. The Memphis native was inactive in the South Carolina and Tennessee Tech games and left the Missouri game in the first half with an injury.
Small has 243 yards and two touchdowns on 44 carries this season.
Having a completely healthy backfield will be a huge plus for Tennessee this weekend against an Ole Miss team that’s been awful against the run. The Rebels are allowing 193 yards on the ground per game, good for 12th in the SEC.
Tennessee is looking to take advantage of that and the rest of the Rebels’ defensive weakness Saturday night at Neyland Stadium.