Tennessee running back Len’Neth Whitehead will miss the entirety of the 2022 season, head coach Josh Heupel announced Sunday at Tennessee’s preseason media days.
“Len’Neth will be out for the entire year this year,” Heupel said. “He sustained an upper body injury a couple weeks ago, had season ending surgery.”
Whitehead — an Athens, Georgia native — totaled 207 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries a season ago. The physical back ended the season fifth on the Vols in rushing yards.
Whitehead is one of three returning running backs on Tennessee’s roster. Without the redshirt sophomore, returning running backs Jabari Small and Jaylen Wright will earn more carries but the biggest impact may be on the Vols’ freshman running backs.
Justin Williams-Thomas and Dylan Sampson haven’t carried the ball once in college and Tennessee is now relying on at least one of them to take a step forward and become a reliable back.
“With Len’Neth being out the two young guys, there’s plenty of emphasis. There always is,” Heupel said. “Those guys have to grow, understand what we’re doing and be able to compete at a really high level immediately. Justin has had a little bit more time on task having been here mid year. Dylan, really excited about what he’s done. He’s a mature young man who processes things really quickly. Just having the opportunity to be out on the grass with him a little bit. Extremely explosive. Between those two guys here early in training camp they’re going to have to grow really quickly to help us at that position.”
Williams-Thomas was here for spring practice after early enrolling in January while Sampson enrolled earlier this summer. That gives Williams-Thomas, a four-star recruit from Georgia, a leg up in his understanding of Heupel’s offense.
However, either one could take a step forward and provide much needed depth to Tennessee’s running back room. Small battled a shoulder injury throughout the 2021 campaign and the number of hits running backs take make it a near certainty someone will miss time during the season.
The Vols could add another running back via the transfer portal but at this time the freshman duo are Tennessee’s third and fourth running backs.
The good news for Tennessee is that the rest of the team is relatively healthy entering fall practice.
“The rest of our football team, we’re really pretty healthy. Some guys we’ll build up over the course of training camp— La’Trell Bumphus is somebody who missed a portion of spring ball that we’ll continue to build up. We’re really in a healthy situation overall.”
Tennessee begins fall camp Monday morning on the Haslam Practice Field. Follow along at RockyTopInsider for updates throughout the fall.