Line injuries a UT worry

Line injuries a UT worry

September 16th, 2009 by Wes Rucker in Sports - College

KNOXVILLE -- Coach Lane Kiffin said Monday that injured players at any position would need to practice to play in games for the University of Tennessee.

Kiffin didn't change course Tuesday but admitted the situation regarding injured offensive linemen Vladimir Richard, Jacques McClendon and Cody Sullins is rather bleak.

Richard's Achilles' tendon has been sore for at least three weeks, and Sullins -- who entered the starting lineup when senior Josh McNeil went down with another knee injury -- suffered an undisclosed setback late last week that somewhat limited him in practice.

Kiffin confirmed Tuesday that McClendon, a former Baylor School standout, suffered a high ankle sprain early in Saturday's 19-15 loss to UCLA.

"He rolled his ankle," Kiffin said. "He continued to try to play through it, and you could see a big difference late in the game with him, once he got injured."

Kiffin didn't mention any possible interior backups aside from sophomore Cody Pope and Cory Sullins, Cody's twin brother.

"It's a big concern," Kiffin said. "We're going to push our guys through practice and find out who can make it and not wait until Saturday to find that out. But we're pretty banged-up up there. And as you guys have known, if you've been around here covering us, we're not very deep up there, so there's not a lot of answers to go to.

"We've got to get better with what we have."

Kiffin laughed when asked about UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel's comments that all four of UT's senior offensive line starters were future NFL players.

"That was nice of Rick to say," Kiffin said. "I don't know that. We've played two games together, and three of them have been hurt. I know our left tackle (Chris Scott) is an NFL player and will be in a camp. But we haven't played enough, and the other guys have been too banged up to even make that assessment."

Locker-room lingo

Kiffin reiterated Tuesday that he doesn't prefer to motivate his team by posting opposing player or coach quotes in the locker room.

"I don't know that that really works," Kiffin said. "I think what works is when you recruit really good players, and you coach really well like (Florida). And you have Tim Tebow and throw to Percy Harvin, and you hand it to (Jeff) Demps and (Chris) Rainey. That makes motivation work really well.

"Then you recruit great players on defense and coach them as well as (Florida coordinator) Charlie Strong does, and that's how you haven't given up a touchdown all year."

Kiffin jokingly thanked Gators coach Urban Meyer this summer for posting UT's logo in the Florida locker room.

"I guarantee you we won't be giving any other school free advertising like that," Kiffin added.

Berry, Tebow talk

UT safety Eric Berry, the reigning SEC defensive player of the year, said he had fun meeting Florida quarterback, Heisman Trophy winner and reigning SEC offensive player of the year Tim Tebow at a few awards ceremonies and media gatherings.

"I really haven't gotten to hang out with him a lot, because when we are at awards shows, he's always mobbed by the media or different people who want to talk to him," Berry said. "We have sat down and talked a little bit (about) just what was going on outside of football.

"Every time we're somewhere, a lot of people want to talk about football, but we just kind of got a feel for each other from a personal standpoint, to see what was on his mind, and he kind of picked my brain. Other than that, that's about it."

Special Swamp

Kiffin said his only experience at Florida Field occurred in 1999, when he and then-girlfriend Layla Reaves went to a Gators-Vols game. He proposed to Layla, a Florida graduate, the next day, and the couple have had three children.

"It's funny," Kiffin said. "At the time, I was happy Florida won, because I was down there with her."

Kiffin said Florida Field was "crazy" that night, when a late fourth-down stop propelled the Gators to a win over the defending national champion Vols.

"It was an electric atmosphere," Kiffin said.