Derek Dooley has enough to worry about on the offensive line.
Making sure the Tennessee coach knows all its specific injury concerns doesn’t make his list.
If Cody Pope or now JerQuari Schofield can’t play on Saturday against UAB (TV: WVLT, 12:21 p.m.), that’s the only detail Dooley really needs at this point. Rather than spend time on medical charts, the Vols are simply focusing their attention on the next guys in line for an already inexperienced unit that’s become progressively thinner over the last two weeks.
“(Schofield) essentially fractured a bone in his foot, for lack of a better diagnosis,” Dooley said Monday. “In the foot, not the ankle, one of those little bitty bones. I’m smiling because I should know (which foot), but if you all haven’t figured out, I move on when a guy is hurt until they come back.
“It’s like, I don’t want to spend energy on which foot or what is this — just get him back, how long until he’s back. Because until then I’ve got to solve the problem.”
For the record, it’s a left foot that could keep Schofield out for the next two or three weeks, and that’s not a minor problem for the Vols up front. With Pope expected to miss his second game with lingering stinger and concussion issues, a line that already had one true freshman contributing could soon have three seeing significant action.
And though UT is confident the future is in good hands with Ja’Wuan James, James Stone and Zach Fulton on the field, it surely didn’t anticipate needing to rely on them so much in the present.
“I mean, what goes through my mind is we’ve got to do a good job of developing a plan so that they can go out there and function and get hats on hats,” Dooley said. “I think if we do that, we’ll be OK. But I can’t get them experience without playing them, and we can’t go look on the free-agent wire right now and pick up some guys on the street. It’s what we are, and we’ve got to coach them and go try to win with them, and that’s what we’re going to do.
“We’re going to play Zach Fulton a lot, he’s been playing better, so half the game you’re going to see three true freshmen and two sophomores, and that’s our offensive line. You’ll see that half the game — hopefully, because that means they’re healthy.”
If they’re not, the rotation could get even more interesting for the Vols.
Stone, a freshman, was listed as the backup to Dallas Thomas at left tackle and to Schofield on the depth chart released for the UAB game, but with Stone now starting at guard, Dooley effectively admitted there was no reserve at either spot. The offensive line did go out of its way during the offseason to try to be prepared for situations like it finds itself in now, but it can hardly stand for things to get much worse.
“They’re coming along well, and it just keeps building,” Thomas said. “It started all the way back in the summer, we’d put ourselves in positions where, let’s say somebody went down, we’d just step a freshman up to see how it went. It’s working pretty good. We’ve got to just keep building, and it’s all going to work out. It’s going to be OK.
“It’s just like, now it’s playing together, that’s not that hard to do. We know who we’ve got and we know what our game plan is to get us ready, so we’ll have those young kids prepared for everything.”