Junior cornerback Riyahd Jones’ absence due to a calf injury could be “lengthy,” Tennessee football coach Butch Jones said Thursday, acknowledging for the first time that the junior-college transfer could miss a large part of the season.
“It could be a couple of months,” Butch Jones said.
The cornerback watched gingerly using crutches while on the field at Neyland Stadium for the team photo on Thursday. He did not speak to reporters.
Butch Jones said Riyahd Jones still is undergoing test, but the root of his health problems were suddenly swollen calves. He wore a brace on one of the calves on Thursday and could only move around slowly.
Riyahd Jones expressed optimism in a Twitter post earlier this week, saying “cool jones is gonna be fine soon.” Cool Jones refers to his Twitter handle.
Freshman Cameron Sutton is the likeliest candidate to start the season at corner along with veteran Justin Coleman. Lack of depth at the position prompted coaches to move receiver Vincent Dallas to cornerback on Monday.
Sutton, fellow cornerback Malik Foreman and receivers Marquez North and Josh Smith are the most likely true freshmen to play early in 2013, but they won’t be the only ones.
Butch Jones said his staff discussed the issue in a recent meeting and determined that anywhere from 13 to 16 freshmen could see the field this year.
At key positions like receiver and defensive back, “They have no choice — they’re playing,” Jones said.
But that mentality could trickle down to other positions like defensive line or even offensive line, where there isn’t a significant depth problem.
True freshman offensive lineman Dylan Wiesman has pushed his way into the second-team rotation. Line coach Don Mahone singled out Wiesman and Mack Crowder for having solid camps.
Starting center James Stone is in better position than anyone to evaluate the performance of senior nose guard Daniel McCullers.
So when he’s asked to name unsung stars from the defensive line, it’s a compliment that McCullers is the first name that pops into his head — even though the 360-pound lineman is far from anonymous.
“Everybody knows about Dan, but I feel like he’s stepped up his game, as far as his motor goes,” Stone said. “He’s playing harder than I’ve ever seen him before. When he does play hard, it really tests the O-line.”
Linebacker Curt Maggitt said the one saving grace from the ACL injury that has limited his participation since spring ball is that his toe injury — last year’s pesky injury — has gone away.
Maggitt has spent most of camp on the sidelines or in a non-contact jersey, but he said his cautious return to action has been for the best. He said an open and honest relationship with the medical and training staff has made it easier.
Despite all that, he said he’s still not 100 percent and isn’t willing to put a date on when he will be.
“I’ve got 16 days to kickoff. I’m getting better every day, and we’ll see how things go then.”
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.