Injuries piled high at UT, Vanderbilt
Posted: Friday, November 19, 2010 5:54 pm
By: By TERESA M. WALKER, AP Sports Writer
NASHVILLE (AP) — Tennessee kicker Daniel Lincoln is one of the lucky ones.
The senior tore his quadriceps in his right, kicking leg, and doctors originally told him the earliest he could return might be in the season finale against Kentucky. With the clock on his college career running out, Lincoln worked hard enough that he will play in the Volunteers’ three final games and a bowl game if they can win out.
“It’s definitely been a motivating factor to come back early,” Lincoln said. “Like, ‘I’m going to come back earlier than that. I’m not going to miss this year, and being a part of something special, kind of turning the program around, there’s no way I was going to miss the rest of the year.’”
Lincoln wound up missing five games this season before returning against Mississippi last week. He wound up kicking a 43-yard field goal against Ole Miss to tie his own school record with his eighth made field goal to start the season.
But Lincoln returned.
When Tennessee (4-6, 1-5 Southeastern Conference) visits Vanderbilt (2-8, 1-6) on Saturday night, both teams can wonder what might have been this season if not for rosters decimated by injuries. The Vols have played 16 freshmen with Vanderbilt not far behind with 13 in moves promptly as much by injuries as talent.
Injuries hit Tennessee during August with defensive end Ben Martin, cornerback Naz Oliver and defensive tackle Marlon Walls all knocked out for the season. Center Cody Pope hasn’t played since the Vols lost to Florida on Sept. 18 due to a stinger. Right guard Zach Fulton hurt an ankle against Memphis on Nov. 6.
Now Tennessee coach Derek Dooley and his staff are monitoring defensive back Erik Gordon (concussion), defensive back Janzen Jackson (ankle) and receiver Zack Rogers (concussion). Dooley said he expects Gordon and Rogers to be fine as long as they continue progressing. Janzen practiced Monday and should play.
That list nearly looks puny considering Vanderbilt’s losses.
Senior defensive tackle Adam Smotherman tore his ACL in the spring and worked hard just like Lincoln to return this season.
He played in three games starting Oct. 16 at Georgia before hurting the same knee in practice before the Commodores played Florida on Nov. 6.
Vandy lost top rusher Warren Norman for the rest of the year when he dislocated his right wrist in a loss at Arkansas on Oct. 30, and second-best rusher Zac Stacy was knocked out in the Florida game, a head injury that won’t let that sophomore play again this year. Senior Kennard Reeves made his first start at Kentucky and ran for a career best 105 yards.
Jordan Rodgers, the younger brother of NFL Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, was a junior college transfer expected to boost Vandy’s offense. But he never played, limited by a sore throwing shoulder finally repaired by surgery.
“I’m anxious to see how that repair went,” Caldwell said.
Defensive back Jamie Graham, a versatile player Vandy could flip to offense if needed, had season-ending knee surgery two weeks ago. Tight end Mason Johnston joined the injury list after hurting a knee in last week’s 38-20 loss at Kentucky.
That doesn’t include all the nagging injuries.
“From a mental toughness pushing through pain things of that sort, we’ve got a lot of guys playing hard,” Vanderbilt defensive tackle T.J. Greenstone said. “If this game was based solely on effort, I think we’d have a great record.”
Now freshman James Kittredge has a high ankle sprain, further trimming Vandy’s options on the offensive line.
At least Caldwell still can joke. He noted a comic that put a blocking dummy in at tackle for a line trying to make do.
“I hope they don’t put me in there,” the former offensive line coach said. “That would be tough.”