Tennessee fullback David Holbert's career suffered another setback Saturday.
Shortly after the Vols' first major scrimmage of spring practice got underway in Neyland Stadium, the fifth-senior suffered a traumatic injury to his left knee.
Holbert, who missed all 14 games last season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee early in fall camp, spent about 20 minutes on the turf after colliding with linebacker Rico McCoy.
"It was a good, clean, tough hit and just part of football. It's a tough violent game sometimes. You hope there's never injuries like Inky had, those scary kind of injuries," said UT coach Phillip Fulmer, referring to former UT cornerback Inky Johnson, whose career ended following a serious injury to his arm and shoulder during a game in 2006. "But occasionally those happen."
Holbert's injury definitely fell under the scary category.
"It's pretty rough," quarterback Jonathan Crompton said. "It's one of the worst ones I've seen. I just heard something pop. I looked down, and it didn't look pretty. I'll say that."
As soon as Holbert went down, trainers immobilized his left leg. Shortly thereafter, players gathered to pray at midfield.
Fulmer then addressed the team before practice resumed.
As the scrimmage wore on, teammates walked over to check on Holbert and offer their condolences.
"Everybody went up to him and told him we're here if you need anything, best of luck," Crompton said. "He's in everybody's prayers, and I hope everybody out there can keep him in their prayers.
"It's just tough. He was doing so good. Just a freak accident is what happened. That's part of the game, but it's tough to get back out there and get your mind right."
Holbert's injury came shortly after linebacker Nevin McKenzie came off the field with a sprained left knee.
Fulmer said that McKenzie, who was battling Adam Myers-White for the starting job at strongside linebacker, would likely miss some practice time this spring.
"Looks like it's a sprain, an MCL sprain that won't require surgery or anything like that," Fulmer said. "We'll see how long it takes for him to get back."
Fulmer did not offer specifics on Holbert's injury, but did acknowledge that the Nashville native will not be back on the field this spring.
"He has a knee injury, that's all I'm allowed to say right now," Fulmer said.
Further tests are likely needed to determine the full extent of Holbert's injury.
Holbert, who moved to tight end last fall after playing 34 games as a fullback, figured to see more playing time under first-year offensive coordinator Dave Clawson.
Last year, former offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe phased out the fullback position, instead using tight ends in a hybrid role.
Holbert was listed as the starter at fullback going into spring practice, but after months of rehab on his injured right knee, Saturday's injury was a tough blow to handle.
"It's really, really sad for anybody to have to go through anything like that," Fulmer said. "It's disappointing because he missed the whole year last year. That's what he was saying as he was laying there 'How can this happen to me? This has to be a bad dream.' He wants to be out here and he wants to help our football team."
Despite the apparent severity of Holbert's injury, running backs coach Stan Drayton said it provided a learning opportunity for all of UT's players.
"It's hard, especially when you have a senior and a lot of people know what he's been through to get back coming off of last year's injury," Drayton said. "It's definitely a let down, but it's also a learning experience for a football team that when you do have an adverse situation like that, the way we react is to go out there and continue to play the game the way the game is played and the way his teammate would want the game to be played."
Drew Edwards covers University of Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274.
Tennessee Scrimmage Stats
Rushing Leaders (Att.-Yds.-TD)
Daryl Vereen 9-20-0; Montario Hardesty 5-17-0; Lennon Creer 8-14-0; Kevin Cooper 2-2-1.
Passing Leaders (Att.-Comp.-Int.-Yds.-TD)
Jonathan Crompton 7-15-1-55-1; B.J. Coleman 9-16-0-95-0; Nick Stephens 5-8-0-54-0.
Receiving Leaders (No.-Yds.-TD)
Josh Briscoe 5-83-0; Quinton Hancock 3-26-0; Gerald Jones 5-25-0; Denarius Moore 2-19-0; Ryan Hill 2-8-0; Luke Stocker 1-7-1.
Donald Langley 5 tackles, 1 TFL (-3); Anthony Anderson 5 tackles; Dan Williams 4 tackles, 1 TFL (-2), 3 PBU; Nick Reveiz 4 tackles; C.J. Fleming 4 tackles; LaMarcus Thompson 4 tackles; Demetrice Morley 3 tackles, 1 sack (-6), 1 interception (23 yds.); DeAngelo Willingham 3 tackles; Savion Frazier 3 tackles; Andre Mathis 3 tackles, 1 TFL (-1); Tyler Wolfe 3 tackles; Adam Myers-White 2 tackles, 1 TFL (-1); Eric Berry 1 tackle, 1 PBU, 1 blocked field goal; Chase Nelson 1 tackle, 1 TFL (-3); Demonte Bolden 1 sack (-10).
Punting Leaders (No.-Avg.-Long)
Chad Cunningham 4-43.0-45.
Field Goal Leaders (Made-Att.-Long)
Daniel Lincoln 6-7-44; Devin Mathis 9-15-43.
Offensive Starters: Tackles Chris Scott and Ramon Foster, guards Vladimir Richard and Jacques McClendon, center Anthony Parker, quarterback Jonathan Crompton, wide receivers Austin Rogers and Josh Briscoe, tight end Luke Stocker, fullback Kevin Cooper, tailback Montario Hardesty.
Defensive Starters: Tackles Dan Williams and Walter Fisher, ends Robert Ayres and Wes Brown, linebackers Rico McCoy, Ellix Wilson and Adam Myers-White, cornerbacks Dennis Rogan and DeAngelo Willingham, safeties Eric Berry and Demetrice Morley.