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Let’s talk about how the injury bug has bitten Tennessee really, really badly

The Vols still have a chance to win their division despite more than a dozen major injuries. That’s amazing.

Alabama v Tennessee
Alvin Kamara suffered one of UT’s latest devastating injuries
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

It seems like every year, one prominent college football team suffers an extraordinary number of injures.

In 2013, one example was Florida, which saw 17 scholarship players go down with season-ending injuries. In 2015, Notre Dame lost nine starters to season-ending injuries, and TCU had to play nearly 30 true and redshirt freshmen.

In 2016, the injury bug has made its way to Knoxville. It’s only Week 8, and the Vols have dealt with at least 15 injuries that have affected starters.

Let’s list out what Tennessee has had to endure, and since college teams tend to be tight with information, this is by no means comprehensive.

  • LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin

The senior started in every game during his sophomore and junior years, leading the team with over 100 total tackles both seasons. He started in all four games this season before going down with a shoulder injury against Ohio on Sept. 17. He attempted to play against Florida the following week, but was unable to play. He had season-ending surgery this week.

  • LB Cortez McDowell

The junior linebacker backed up Reeves-Maybin last season, playing in 13 games and making 12 tackles. He came in for Reeves-Maybin after his injury, but left vs. Texas A&M due to an undisclosed injury. He missed the Alabama game last week.

  • LB Darrin Kirkland Jr.

The sophomore made the Freshman All-SEC team last season after recording 66 tackles as UT’s starting middle linebacker for 10 games. Against Virginia Tech, Kirkland suffered a high-ankle sprain. He hasn’t played since. He was a game-time decision against Alabama a week ago, though, which could be a good sign.

  • LB Quart’e Sapp

The redshirt freshman was expected to contribute, especially with Kirkland’s injury, but he suffered a stress fracture in his foot against Appalachian State. Head coach Butch Jones said Sapp will be out for “an extended period of time.”

  • DB Cameron Sutton

Sutton started in all 38 games over his first three seasons at cornerback. He began returning punts in 2014, too. The senior suffered a fractured ankle against Ohio and, per Jones, he could return for the last couple games of the season.

  • DB Malik Foreman

Foreman made arguably the play of the year in the fourth quarter against Texas A&M two weeks ago. The senior forced the ball loose from TAMU’s Trayveon Williams' hands in the end zone for a touchback, which led to a game-tying score for the Vols.

Foreman started in 10 games as a junior last season and made two starts this year. He was suspended for the Ohio game and missed the Alabama game, apparently due to an undisclosed injury.

  • OL Dylan Wiesman

The senior started in every game last season, mostly at right guard. He started in four games this season at center, but suffered a concussion against Texas A&M. He did not play in the Alabama game last week, and he’s still on the injury list this week for an unknown amount of time due to a head/shoulder injury, per SEC Country.

  • OL Jashon Robertson

After starting in 13 games as a true freshman, he started in 10 games as a sophomore last season. He started in Tennessee’s first four games, but missed the Alabama game after suffering an injury against Texas A&M.

  • OL Brett Kendrick

Kendrick started five games in 2015. He started this season at left tackle, but sustained a leg injury in the first quarter against Alabama last week.

  • OL Jack Jones

Jones came off the bench against Virginia Tech and had three starts on the season, and came off the bench again vs. Georgia. Against Alabama, he tore ligaments in his thumb, then had surgery to repair them earlier this week. He is expected to try and play with his hand wrapped, according to 247Sports.

  • DL Kahlil McKenzie

McKenzie played in all 13 games last season as a true freshman, mostly at defensive tackle. He played in all of the Vols’ first seven games this season, but suffered a torn pectoral muscle against Alabama. According to Jones, he is likely out for the rest of the season.

  • DT Kendal Vickers

Vickers made 13 starts as a redshirt sophomore last season, and was a starter at defensive tackle this season. He sustained injuries against Texas A&M and Alabama, but Jones hasn’t made the details known.

  • DL Danny O’ Brien

The redshirt senior started in each of the Vols’ first six games at defensive tackle, but was carted off against Texas A&M.

One day later, Tennessee announced O’Brien had been dismissed for an unrelated "violation of team rules."

  • DT Alexis Johnson

Johnson, a former four-star JUCO prospect, was supposed to step in with O’Brien’s dismissal, but did not dress out vs. Alabama. Jones said earlier this week that he is dealing with a hip flexor injury.

  • RB Alvin Kamara

The latest addition is a star redshirt junior running back. In 2015, as a former JUCO five-star prospect, he played in all 13 games, rushing for 698 yards and seven touchdowns. In the first seven games this year, he rushed for 313 yards and three touchdowns. He reportedly suffered two knee injuries against Alabama and could be out at least two weeks.

“I’ve never been through a season like this, where the injuries just continue to mount up,” Jones said, via Gridiron Now.

“But that’s the game of football and that’s recruiting and that’s development.”

The losses to Texas A&M and Alabama put the Vols behind Florida in the SEC East standings. However, they have a favorable remaining schedule ahead, featuring South Carolina, Kentucky, Missouri, and Vanderbilt.

Let’s keep in mind that the Vols have had all of these injuries, and they’re still sitting at 5-2. This is a credit to the coaching staff making adjustments when needed, the players who are stepping up, and Jones for the recruiting classes he’s overseen in Knoxville.

Recruiting isn’t just about getting the former five-stars to make plays. A huge part of putting together classes involves evaluating positions of need and building depth where necessary. The fact that the Vols have amassed so many injuries, yet still managed to keep their heads well above water, earns a tip of the cap.

And, if nothing else, so much of UT’s roster is building up experience for next year.

HT: Charlie Burris, who contributed to this report.