This story was updated Oct. 8, 2018, at 6:24 p.m. with more information.
KNOXVILLE — An injury to one of the youngest contributors on Tennessee's defense could crack the door for one of the Volunteers' oldest players to have a final hurrah on the football field.
Coach Jeremy Pruitt said Monday that freshman safety Trevon Flowers suffered a broken collarbone in practice while diving for an interception. The injury is expected to sideline Flowers for a few weeks.
The Vols (2-3, 0-2) play at No. 21 Auburn on Saturday at noon EDT.
Nigel Warrior, Theo Jackson and Micah Abernathy could handle the bulk of the plays at safety during Flowers' absence, but fifth-year senior Todd Kelly Jr. might also enter the mix after appearing in his first game of the season two weeks ago.
Kelly played on special teams in Tennessee's 38-12 loss at Georgia. He has not played in the secondary during a game since the second contest of 2017.
Kelly turns 23 on Tuesday with seven scheduled games remaining in a once-promising career derailed by a nagging knee issue. He underwent surgery and received a medical redshirt after playing in two games last season.
"You know, Todd, he's continued to work to get back," Pruitt said. "He played a little bit on special teams last week. He did get the chance to participate in the off week."
The Knoxville native has 158 tackles and eight interceptions in 41 career games.
Pruitt characterized Kelly as "taking baby steps" in his recovery.
"Which is a credit to him because he had a severe injury," Pruitt said. "Having to work hard to come back from that, it would have been easy for him to say, 'I'm just going to move on and I'm done with football.' He's worked extremely hard. So he's getting a little bit better each week."
Flowers, 18, started and made five tackles in Tennessee's season-opening loss to West Virginia. The former three-star prospect began playing football again at Tucker (Georgia) High School his senior season after several years of focusing on baseball.
He signed to play baseball for Kentucky before flipping to Tennessee, where he planned to begin his college career playing both sports.
Jackson surged ahead of Flowers in the rotation at safety following the West Virginia game, but Pruitt remained high on Flowers up until the injury.
"It's unfortunate for him, because he really had improved the last two or three weeks and had a great off week this past week," Pruitt said. "So we'll be without him moving forward."
Early start OK
Saturday's game will start at 11 a.m. at Auburn, which is in the Central time zone. The last time Tennessee played in the Central time zone in that slot was 2009. The Vols lost 42-17 at Ole Miss.
"It's going to be bright and early. You've just got to get up and do it," sophomore offensive lineman Trey Smith said. "You know what I mean? We're going to bring it."
Pruitt is a fan of the early game.
"I like 11 a.m. kickoffs, especially on the road," he said. "We'll be home by 7:30 that night. Sitting around all day as opposed to the 7 o'clock, I like the 11 o'clock myself."