Freshmen duo primed for extended role

Shy Tuttle and Kahlil McKenzie are set for bigger roles on the defensive line with the suspension of a starting defensive tackle Wednesday.

Those wanting to see more of Kahlil McKenzie and Shy Tuttle will get their chance Saturday night. The two heralded freshmen will be asked to step up and into the spotlight against an aggressive Oklahoma offensive front after Butch Jones announced the indefinite suspension of Danny O’Brien Wednesday for a violation of team rules.

Jones didn’t set a date on when O’Brien’s suspension could be lifted, calling the situation “ongoing,” but the redshirt junior’s absence from the lineup will usher the blue chip duo into extended roles in the middle of the defensive line in relief of likely starters Owen Williams and Kendal Vickers.

“It’s a great opportunity for them and that’s why you work,” Jones said. “We’re going to have some youth served there, so to speak, but it’s an opportunity for them as well.”

Both players received mop-up duty reps in Saturday’s 59-30 win over Bowling Green. Now the two are prepared for a much more dynamic role.

McKenzie battled an injury at the end of fall camp that briefly stunted his development, but now the former No. 1-overall recruit is primed for primetime.

“He has gained some extra repetitions and is doing a very good job," Jones said. "He’s really dropped a lot of weight. We were talking about that yesterday after practice. He feels the best he’s ever felt. He’s weighing the least he’s ever weighed before, so he’s able to move a little bit more. I’m excited to see him perform Saturday.”

Tuttle, on the other hand, benefited from a full spring practice slate as an early enrollee at Tennessee and looks to put that invaluable experience to the test.

"Any time you go through a full 15 practices in spring and have a little more time in terms of the strength and conditioning room, I think that has helped him, especially too with the knowledge of the defense and their run fits."

As Tuttle and McKenzie prepare for the first major action of their college football careers, Jones is hoping they'll get their first baseline performance in style.

"There is [a lot of young players], and like we talked about on Tuesday about the baseline style of performance or level of performance, this is a new baseline for them as well," Jones said. "But all you can go upon is your evidence that you have when they're in the building, their concentration, and it's been business as usual, preparing the same way that we did the week before, which is good."

McNeil's Return

LaDarrell McNeil's return to practice Tuesday looks to be permanent. The senior safety was ruled out for an "extended period of time" by Jones August 27 due to "neck instability issues", but after flying to Texas for further testing, was cleared to play again.

"He got a full examination, an MRI, all that, and after that, they concluded that it’s safe to play football,” Jones said. “Just seeing the smile on his face and the excitement of his teammates was very, very rewarding. Everything we do is for the welfare and benefit of our student-athletes and taking the precautionary measures that we need to take.”

The Dallas native returned to practice Tuesday in a limited fashion and Jones expects him to be back in time for next Saturday's game against Western Carolina.

Frenetic pace

Like Ricky Bobby, Tennessee's offense wants to go fast. Really fast. So when the Vols marched out onto Nissan Stadium and exploded for 59 points on 87 plays, Jones noticed a considerable difference in pace from his previous teams in Knoxville.

With a fellow high-powered offense that wants to control the tempo and set the pace on the schedule Saturday, the Vols are hoping to replicate the way they were able to run the offense against Bowling Green.

"It was the fastest since we've been at Tennessee we've played at," Jones said. "Even the players remarked about it on the sidelines. It's a tribute to them with their practice habits. It's a tribute to them and coach DeBord and the entire offensive coaching staff. We will change the tempo. We don't have a set time, even though we chart it, we have different tempos involved."

Injury Update

Two players will miss the Saturday's tilt with Oklahoma due to injuries. Redshirt senior defensive back Max Arnold was ruled out with an MCL sprain, while redshirt senior running back Ralph David Abernathy IV will miss the game with an ankle sprain.

Jones details suspension, Oklahoma matchup

Inside Tennessee Top Stories