McNeil's streak near end?

Josh McNeil's streak of 35 consecutive starts as Tennessee's center is in serious jeopardy.

McNeil, who had been alternating with Cody Sullins as the first-team center all spring and preseason, missed Monday's practice to visit a specialist regarding chronic knee problems that could cause him to miss the Vols' Sept. 5 opener vs. Western Kentucky.

Head coach Lane Kiffin said McNeil's most recent knee injury occurred "eight or nine days ago" when he "came down weird on it, then kept playing through it."

Although he may be UT's toughest player, the 6-3, 290-pound senior experienced so much discomfort in Saturday's final preseason scrimmage that he could barely function.

"It really was an issue for him Saturday," Kiffin said. "We're sending him for some more tests. We can't just send him for an MRI because he's had so much damage there (to his knee) that they really can't tell anything."

Asked if McNeil's injury ends the competition at center, Kiffin shrugged.

"I wouldn't say it ends it," the head man said. "We'll see what the results say when they come back. Hopefully, we'll have good news and he'll be able to play for us."

Kiffin confirmed that wide receiver Gerald Jones suffered a high-ankle sprain in Saturday's scrimmage. The extent of the injury and the probable length of his layoff is unknown.

"We're still evaluating," Kiffin said. "We've heard (he'll be out) anything from three weeks to six weeks."

COACH O AT TAILBACK?

Tennessee had a new face at tailback during Monday's practice. He was a little slow but he hit holes pretty well for a 48-year-old.

Yep, 48-year-old defensive line coach Ed Orgeron was so determined to make sure his troops carried out their responsibilities correctly that he lined up as a scout-squad tailback, took hand-offs and ran into their midst probably a dozen times.

The ploy worked. Orgeron saw every hole that opened up because of a misaligned defender, then corrected the mistake instantly.

Needless to say, Orgeron's carries came in a half-speed, no-tackling drill.

PRACTICE HIGHLIGHTS

Heralded freshman Bryce Brown got the second call at tailback following senior starter Montario Hardesty in an 11-on-11 drill. Sophomore Tauren Poole went third and freshman David Oku fourth.

Hardesty made several impressive runs in the 11-on-11 work, exploding through openings and making some nifty cuts. He's something special when he's healthy, and he's probably as healthy as he's been during his four years at UT.

Bryce Brown slipped unnoticed out of the backfield, gathered in a pass in the left flat and sped 50 yards untouched for a touchdown. There had to be a busted coverage on the play.

Anthony Anderson returned to practice after missing time due to injury. He appears to have supplanted Marsalous Johnson at the cornerback spot opposite Art Evans.

Redshirt freshman Herman Lathers was back at practice after missing considerable time due to injury. Lathers is battling Nick Reveiz for the first-team job at middle linebacker.

Freshman Nu'Keese Richardson made several eye-catching plays during the workout. He caught a 30-yard pass over the middle from Nick Stephens early in the practice, then made two sensational grabs late. On the first he leaped high to make a one-handed catch. On the second he went airborne again, twisting in mid-air to reel in a pass thrown slightly behind him.

Freshman cornerback Nyshier Oliver made a couple of dandy defensive plays late in the workout. On the first he lunged to tip away a slant pass intended for Richardson. On the second he arrived just as the ball did to thwart a pass intended for Brandon Warren.

Freshman receiver Zach Rogers broke free on a post route and hauled in a 30-yard touchdown pass from Stephens.

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