Tackle Justin Harrell – the only returnee from the 2005 front seven – suffered a bicep injury that caused him to miss the final quarter. He will not play again this year.
Nor will cornerback Inquoris Johnson, who was taken to UT Hospital after being knocked unconscious in the fourth quarter of the Air Force game.
Vol trainer Jason McVeigh said in a statement released by UT that Johnson "has sustained a severe injury to his right upper extremity. He underwent surgery to repair blood vessels and will require further surgery for nerve injury in the future. He is in stable condition at this time. He will not return to play this season. The family has requested that the media and fans respect his privacy during this time."
McVeigh's comments on Harrell's condition were just as somber:
"Justin Harrell sustained a ruptured biceps tendon in the game Saturday night. The injury will require surgery to be corrected. He will not return to play this season. It is anticipated that he will make a full recovery."
With Harrell sidelined, fellow senior Turk McBride moved over from end to fill the void at tackle in the final quarter of the Air Force game. McBride has played a lot of tackle in his career and will almost certainly start there vs. Florida.
Asked how McBride performed after replacing Harrell at tackle, head coach Phillip Fulmer replied: “I thought he did fine. He did a good job of staying in there and tackling the dive back.”
Replacing Johnson may be more difficult. The Vols already lost one of their top cornerbacks when Roshaun Fellows recently opted to undergo surgery on a strained abdominal muscle.
“We’re thin back there a little bit,” Fulmer said. “There’s a couple of young guys – Antonio Gaines and Ricardo Kemp – that need to step up now, just as Inky Johnson did last year when Jason Allen went out. We’re expecting those guys to help our football team.”
Don’t look for Gaines or Kemp to start vs. Florida, however. Fulmer said he and his staff will “make an adjustment in the secondary – I’m not sure what it is yet – to get our best guys on the field.”
Tennessee has three quality safeties in Antwan Stewart, Jon Hefney and Demetrice Morley, so one of them probably will fill the void at cornerback vs. Florida. Since Stewart and Hefney start, Morley is considered the most likely candidate.
Fulmer isn’t tipping his hand, though, noting: “We’re in the process of looking at that as a staff and deciding what we’re going to do between him, Antwan Stewart and Jon Hefney.”
Injuries are part of the game, and Fulmer has dealt with them before. He tried to be philosophical as he discussed the impact the injuries to Harrell and Johnson might have on Vol defenders.
“We have to close ranks and other guys have to step up,” he said. “The other side of the ball (offense) has to help them even more.”
On a positive note, Fulmer said he saw “considerable improvement” in reserve defensive tackle Demonte Bolden.” End Xavier Mitchell, who sealed the 31-30 defeat of Air Force by stopping the Falcons’ two-point conversion try with 1:35 to play, also appears ready to make his mark.
“Xavier Mitchell playing at defensive end will allow us to be more flexible with Turk inside,” Fulmer noted.
Another positive note: Two offensive players who were injured vs. Air Force – tailback Arian Foster (ankle) and guard Ramon Foster – should be ready in time for the Gator invasion.
“They both should be available for Florida,” Fulmer said.