KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Injuries and depth issues in the secondary are forcing Tennessee to rely on freshman cornerbacks.
Riyahd Jones, who opened training camp atop the depth chart at cornerback, missed a second straight day of practice Tuesday with a leg injury. Tennessee coach Butch Jones said the junior college transfer “is still undergoing further evaluation” and wouldn’t speculate on when he might return. Redshirt freshman cornerback Michael Williams sat out Tuesday’s practice with a shoulder injury, though he’s expected back in the next couple of days.
Those injuries put even more pressure on freshman cornerbacks Cameron Sutton and Malik Foreman to make an immediate impact. Even before Riyahd Jones got hurt, Sutton had been working on the first-team defense alongside junior Justin Coleman, a returning starter.
“They’re going to have to play,” Butch Jones said. “That’s where we’re at in our program. We’re going to have to rely on some freshmen on the edges of our defense at the corner position. It is what it is. We’re trying to force feed them. We’re trying to challenge them on every single rep. Every single rep’s a learning experience for them.”
In an attempt to boost Tennessee’s depth, wide receiver Vincent Dallas and running back Reggie Juin have been working out in the secondary this week. In another possible switch, Jalen Reeves-Maybin has moved from safety to linebacker. Jones said he wanted to see Dallas at cornerback this week before determining whether he could best help the team on offense or defense.
Dallas spent most of last year’s training camp in the secondary before moving back to receiver. He said his history of playing multiple positions has helped him adapt to the potential move.
“I was playing DB one time, and then I moved to receiver, and now I’m back at DB,” Dallas said. “I’m just ready for sudden change and ready to play wherever he needs me to play.”
Even if Dallas stays in the secondary, the Vols will need Sutton and Foreman to play right away.
These untested cornerbacks won’t get a chance to ease into their new assignments. The list of quarterbacks Tennessee faces before November includes Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, Florida’s Jeff Driskel, Georgia’s Aaron Murray, South Carolina’s Connor Shaw and Alabama’s A.J. McCarron. Western Kentucky coach Bobby Petrino, considered one of the game’s top passing gurus, gets his chance to expose Tennessee’s young cornerbacks on Sept. 7.
“They’re doing a great job,” Jones said. “We have to get them ready. We have no choices.”
Saban: Linebacker DePriest facing short suspension
Alabama coach Nick Saban said starting inside linebacker Trey DePriest has been suspended “for a short time.”
Saban said that DePriest violated team rules and could be back as soon as a week. The Crimson Tide open Aug. 31 against Virginia Tech.
Saban didn’t elaborate on what the linebacker did, but said, “It wasn’t a very smart thing to do, and there has to be consequences sometimes when you don’t do the right things.”
DePriest was second on the team with 59 tackles.
Top receiver Amari Cooper wore a black non-contact jersey in Tuesday’s practice. Saban says he’ll be held out several days with a strained foot, and then will have his status evaluated day to day.
Tight end Malcolm Faciane returned to practice after completing a 30-day suspension.
Oklahoma defensive end out for six weeks
Oklahoma defensive end D.J. Ward had his spleen removed Tuesday and coach Bob Stoops says it will be about a six-week recovery process for the freshman from Moore.
Stoops announced the surgery while meeting with reporters. He said Ward had an enlarged spleen and that doctors “felt the need to remove it.” He says it “had nothing to do with contact or anything.”
Ward had not practiced with the Sooners during the preseason. He was expected to contribute to a defensive line that is short on experience entering the season opener Aug. 31 against Louisiana-Monroe.
Stoop said it has not been decided if Ward would redshirt this season or try to come back.