Tennessee left tackle Jacob Gilliam is out for the season with an anterior cruciate ligament tear suffered in Sunday night’s 38-7 win over Utah State, Vols coach Butch Jones said at his weekly press conference on Tuesday.
Gilliam, a fifth-year senior from Farragut High School in Knoxville, won the starting job in the offseason and made his first career start on Sunday night. Jones said Tennessee is exploring the possibility of applying for a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA, but it’s unlikely that will be granted.
“It’s very, very unfortunate,” Jones said. “I feel for him. I feel for his family. Here’s a young man, I love him to death. Walk-on who earned a scholarship. He earned it. … I just feel for Jacob just because he’s earned the respect of his peers and he’s worked so hard to put himself in position to be our starting left tackle.”
Jones said he spoke to Gilliam briefly after he learned news of the injury.
“He’s disappointed,” Jones said. “He’s put a lot of hard work and a lot of effort and a lot of commitment into it. It will serve him for years down the road with handling adversity and persevering. He’ll be better from it, but obviously, you’d expect him to be down when you invest so much in it.”
Jones said junior Dontavius Blair, redshirt freshman Brett Kendrick and true freshman Coleman Thomas will compete for the vacant starting job.
“It’s a concern from an overall depth stand point,” Jones said. “That’s where your concern comes from. We’ve repped a number of individuals all training camp. We have a plan in place. You always have contingency plans as coaches. The great thing is Kendrick, Coleman Thomas, Blair, they’ve all garnered first team repetitions, so in terms of teaching it or learning it, they’ve had as many reps as Jacob has had. But now it’s the individuals learning together.”
Other highlights from Jones’s press conference follow.
- Jones said he was disappointed with Tennessee’s special teams performance across the board on Sunday, even though the Vols’ fumble recovery on kickoff coverage was arguably the most important play on the game. He saw breakdowns in every unit. “All of them were exceptionally disappointing,” Jones said of the special teams units. “Everything starts with operation time. Our punt was too long. Our field goal execution was too long. Didn’t like our coverage on the punt team. Kickoff team, the kickers didn’t do a good job of placing the ball in the box. They sprayed the football which really puts your coverage team in some very challenging situations. Our kickoff return team, we didn’t maintain our blocks, we didn’t play in space very well. A couple of times we had some field returns, we changed our scheme a little bit this year with some little nuances and we weren’t able to get the ball back to the field. … We invest too much in special teams to go out and perform like that.”
- Jones said he was pleased with the returners, especially punt returner Cameron Sutton. “I thought his concentration was outstanding,” Jones said. “But he was never given an opportunity because we didn’t win at the line of scrimmage. We didn’t stay in the return phase. So just the small details of what it takes to play winning football on the special teams, we didn’t do a very good job of.”
- Jones also saw issues with the run game, saying the Vols were often one block away from making big gains. “There were about eight incidents where we ran the football and we were one block away,” Jones said. “A lot of times, it’s your backside cutoffs. It’s your alignment not being on the proper landmark of the defender. Everything is moving, it’s going to where they’re going to be. It’s the discipline, staying low with pad level. It’s not just the offensive line, it may be the tight end on the combination block. It may be the back taking his proper read, it may be the quarterback keeping it. There was a lot of just single breakdowns. We’re working to get that corrected.”
- Freshman Aaron Medley was listed as the starter at kicker on the new depth chart, but Jones said competition at that position will continue.
- The same goes for the nickel spot, where junior LaDarrell McNeil actually started and cornerbacks Emmanuel Moseley and Michael Williams continue to compete.
- Jones praised Arkansas State for continuing to win despite near constant coaching turnover and said the challenge of dealing with dual-threat quarterback Fredi Knighten will be different than dealing with Utah State’s Chuckie Keeton because Arkansas State calls more designed running plays for Knighten.
- Jones said he expects the game to be close to a sellout, and again asked for