The coaching staff raved about freshman defensive lineman Kyle Phillips’ upside on the defensive line in fall camp. While blue chip superstars Shy Tuttle and Kahlil McKenzie grabbed most the spotlight, Phillips quietly earned the respect of his teammates and the staff. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound defensive end, however, hasn’t played much this season due to a series of injuries.
"Kyle was set back a little bit with some nagging injuries that really kind of set back his growth and development,” Jones said. “Again, we have to be not so quick to anoint 17, 18 year-old kids. They're working to be adults. This is a different world. It is not high school football. This is football at the highest level.”
But the 19-year-old Phillips might be asked to grow up a little faster than first thought. With Curt Maggitt out for “an extended period of time” per Jones, Phillips will be one of the young players thrust into his spot to help the defense.
“Kyle has done a phenomenal job. His attitude is outstanding,” Jones said. “His work ethic is outstanding, but you're competing at the highest level, and to his credit he's worked very, very hard each and every day and he's going to have an opportunity — with the absence of Curt [Maggitt] — to insert his will on this football team and to earn playing time each and every day.”
The former Scout four-star from Nashville was the No.1-ranked defensive end in Tennessee and the No. 49 overall player in the country in the 2015 class.
Curt Maggitt Update
Butch Jones updated the timeline on Curt Maggitt’s timetable to return from a bone chip in his hip. Maggitt will not need surgery on the injury, but could still miss up to ten weeks while he rehabilitates from bone chip he suffered against Oklahoma last Saturday.
"With Curt Maggitt, he continues to be evaluated,” Jones said. “He does not, as of today, need surgery, which is a positive. It could be eight weeks. It could be six weeks. It could be ten weeks. It's all based on his body and how his body heals.”
The preseason All-SEC hybrid linebacker/defensive end averaged 3.5 tackles per game to start the season and serves as a locker room leader and a potential All-America candidate when healthy.
"Curt is an integral part of Tennessee Football and will always be an important part,” Jones said. “He's part of the building process. He's our leader. I know he hurts right now. I know he's disappointed. I love him to death, but I know he's very resilient. He's been resilient ever since he's been here, and he's a great representative. He has a great, great future ahead of him.”
While Jones didn’t want to speculate when exactly Maggitt could rejoin to the lineup, he did rule out an early return and was hopeful the redshirt senior will see the field again before Tennessee wraps up the regular season.
"We hope he's back,” Jones said. “All goals are that he will be back at some point in time, but it's all based on how his body heals."
It’s no secret Saturday’s game against Western Carolina is viewed by most as the patented “cupcake game,” a matchup where the Catamounts get a nice paycheck, Tennessee gets a nice tune-up contest, and everyone goes home happy.
But in a world where Appalachian State can upset Michigan and Jacksonville State can take Auburn to overtime, Jones understands the need to take games like these seriously, especially after coming off of such an emotional home defeat.
"I will tell you this, and I think everyone should understand this: winning is fragile,” Jones said. “Winning is hard to do in college football, and we need everyone's support. It's a nationally televised game. The last I heard, there were only, I believe, 100 tickets left for this game, which is a tribute to our fans. It's a tribute to their passion, and we're going to need them, just like we do every home game.”
The third-year Vols head coach left no stone unturned when asked where his team needed to improve heading into the Western Carolina game.
"Everywhere,” Jones said. “Everywhere across the board. It starts with our fundamentals, our discipline and our technique — our discipline and our fundamentals of playing winning football. Carrying the ball in the proper arm. Eyes on the thighs, driving for five, and our tackling. No mental errors. Just continued growth and improvement.”