Tennessee linebacker Keenan Pili will miss multiple weeks with an upper body injury, Volquest’s Brent Hubbs first reported and Tennessee coach Josh Heupel confirmed Wednesday on the SEC Coaches Teleconference.
“We weren’t sure earlier in the week the severity of the injury,” Heupel said on the teleconference. “He will not be available this week. He’ll miss a couple weeks here.
While Heupel shared that the starting linebacker will miss multiple weeks, the third year Tennessee coach does believe Pili will return this season.
“I don’t believe it is season ending,” Heupel said. “We’ll see how he continues to heal up here in the coming days and weeks.”
Pili started at linebacker for Tennessee in the Vols’ season opener against Virginia after transferring from BYU into the Volunteer program earlier this offseason.
The massive 6-foot-3, 240-pound linebacker totaled four tackles in the season opening win in 29 defensive snaps. Pili earned a strong 73.0 PFF grade for his performance— the third highest mark from a Tennessee linebacker.
With Pili sidelined, a number of Vol linebackers will get more snaps and an opportunity to step up. Sophomore Elijah Herring is Pili’s backup on Tennessee’s week two depth chart and played 24 snaps in the Virginia game.
The Murfreesboro, Tennessee native was impressive in the opening game of the season, tallying a team-high five tackles and 0.5 a tackle for a loss.
Besides Herring, sophomore Kalib Perry and freshmen Arion Carter and Jeremiah Telander will receive more reps. Tennessee touted its improved linebacker depth throughout fall camp and Pili’s injury presents opportunities to those talented underclassmen.
“With the depth that we’re building, we are going to be able to play multiple guys,” inside linebackers coach Brian-Jean Mary said this preseason. “We feel like we are going to get them to play at a high level. I think we are getting to the point where we can be a third, fourth or even fifth team deep at linebacker. That’s going to be a blessing.”
Tennessee’s Saturday home opener against Austin Peay will be a good warmup and audition for that trio of underclassmen heading into the heart of the schedule.
After the Austin Peay game, Tennessee opens up SEC play at Florida before hosting UTSA and South Carolina to Neyland Stadium before the open date.
Kickoff between Tennessee and Austin Peay is at 5 p.m. ET Saturday night at Neyland Stadium. The SEC Network+ is broadcasting the game.