Tennessee coach Butch Jones says Saturday’s first spring scrimmage and two-a-day practice will be “game day for a lot of individuals.”
Senior defensive end Jacques Smith won’t be one of them.
Following Wednesday night’s preseason practice, Jones announced Smith fractured his right thumb in the prior night’s practice. The Vols' projected starter at defensive end will miss four-to-six weeks, but has not been ruled out for UT’s Aug. 31 season opener against Austin Peay.
“We’ll see how he progresses,” Jones said. “We may have him back for the Austin Peay game. That’s what we’re looking towards. He may be good to go. We’ll probably know further details here in a week or so.”
Smith recorded 33 tackles playing 12 games at linebacker last season. He transitioned back to the defensive line in the Vols’ return to a 4-3 defense under Jones.
Smith’s break wasn’t the only bad news. Corey Vereen, a freshman behind Smith as UT’s “Leo-end” (a defensive end/linebacker hybrid), underwent an MRI on a sore knee Wednesday night and did not practice.
While Jones reported Smith underwent “very successful” surgery on Wednesday, he said the extent of Vereen’s injury is unknown.
MRI results are due Thursday.
The potential loss of Smith and Vereen could pose problems on the left side of Tennessee’s defensive line. Jones mentioned starting end Marlon Walls and backups Corey Miller and Jaylen Miller as potential stopgaps.
Junior Jordan Williams is listed behind Smith on the Vols’ preseason depth chart.
“More players get an opportunity,” Jones said. “We have some veterans at that position that have played a lot of football here.”
Miller said he’s accustomed to playing a traditional defensive end spot, but has been cross-training at “Leo-end” from “Day 1” and feels good.
“It’s adversity,” Miller said. “It happens every day. Guys go down. Others step up.”
These individuals will be back,” Jones said. “We fully anticipate them being back.”
Oliver Not On Roster: Senior defensive back Naz Oliver is no longer listed on Tennessee’s official roster and may complete his final year of eligibility at a school closer to his New Jersey home, Jones said.
Jones said that Oliver was on pace to graduate and will leave UT with a degree.
Oliver had an injury-marred career at UT, playing only one game since arriving as a freshman in 2009.
Lane Makes Appearance: Junior running back Marlin Lane, who was suspended for undisclosed disciplinary reasons during the spring but was reinstated this summer, spoke to reporters Wednesday for the first time since his return.
Lane’s appearance, coming at 10 p.m. and shortly after coach Jones released major injury news, came as a surprise. He was not on the list of players scheduled to be available.
Lane didn’t specifically address the reason for his suspension, but said he spoke with Jones regularly while he was away from the team.
Lane is battling senior Rajion Neal and redshirt freshman Alden Hill for reps at running back. He had 658 yards on 120 carries in 2012.
Day Off?: Wednesday concluded six straight days of practice for the Vols. The team is slated for a day off on Thursday, but Jones said plainly, “There are no days off.”
Team meetings, walk-throughs and academic work are slated for Thursday.
The Vols will return to Haslam Field on Friday, the same day summer session classes come to an end. That will set up a big day on Saturday. The Vols will partake in a scrimmage and first two-a-day practice of the preseason.
Injury Report: In addition to Smith and Vereen, other nicked-up Vols include freshmen receivers Paul Harris and Josh Smith, sophomore linebacker Justin King and senior linebacker Brent Brewer. None practiced Wednesday.
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee football and men’s basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn