Tennessee football defensive lineman Emmit Gooden suffered a season-ending injury in practice Tuesday. That’s the worst possible outcome for the Volunteers.
We haven’t done our list yet of players Tennessee football could least afford to lose for 2019. But if he hadn’t gotten hurt on Tuesday, Emmit Gooden would have been on it for the Vols. Now, his injury that has knocked him out for the season is devastating.
Reports surfaced Wednesday morning that Gooden had suffered an injury Tuesday. However, there was not yet any confirmation if he had been out for the season. Jeremy Pruitt finally did confirm it Wednesday after practice.
This is devastating for Gooden. He had developed and gotten better throughout last year, and entering his senior year, this was his time to shine. He should be able to take a redshirt and play next year, but given how well he improved and the opportunity he had, you have to feel horrible for the guy.
Down the stretch of 2018, Gooden emerged as a very solid rotational guy. He continued to get better, and he was a reliable defensive lineman for Tennessee football in the end, even earning a starting job. As a junior backup, he finished with seven and a half tackles for a loss and a sack.
Given those results, he figured to be a major part of the defensive line this year and the one guy Pruitt can rely on for sure, particularly at defensive tackle. But with his injury, the Vols have a huge hole up front now.
Despite returning starters all over the field and a great chance at improvement this season, the one major concern for Rocky Top was defensive line. That was the best unit for UT in 2018, but all three starters, Alexis Johnson, Shy Tuttle and Kyle Phillips graduated. Paul Bain, a backup who provided depth, also graduated.
As a result, Jeremy Pruitt went the junior college and transfer route for immediate help. But the one saving grace he had was Gooden, a four-star tackle who was raised in the state and came from Last Chance U the year before.
Pruitt will now have to turn to four-star junior college transfer Savion Williams, three-star junior college transfer Darel Middleton out of Last Chance U as well, and Michigan Wolverines transfer Aubrey Solomon, once a five-star recruit. However, Solomon is waiting on an eligibility waiver from the NCAA, so he might not even play this year.
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After that, Pruitt is left with a bunch of freshmen at defensive tackle specifically, including redshirts Greg Emerson and Kingston Harris and three-star nose tackle Elijah Simmons. Kurrott Garland is in the transfer portal. Matthew Butler, John Mincey, LaTrell Bumphus and Ja’Quain Blakely are all more suited for the one defensive end role up front.
Simply put, Pruitt has nobody reliable to turn to at this position. And he’s taking a huge risk having to rely on junior college guys and transfers, one of whom might not even play this year and suffered a season-ending injury last year. This is why Gooden’s injury is the worst possible outcome for the Vols.
Sure, other positions don’t have much proven depth for Tennessee football either. But they have more than defensive line. And they have some returning talent as well without as much of a need for a deep rotation. The only one less proven is the quarterback position.
And although quarterback is more important, taking your chances with JT Shrout or Brian Maurer is better than finding two guys who can play up front at defensive tackle the way Pruitt, Derrick Ansley and Tracy Rocker need them to play without Gooden.
Make no mistake, this is bad for the Vols. Tennessee football is going to have to act fast to find replacements, and the NCAA needs to clear Solomon to play now. This is a horrible situation for them, and it’s even more devastating for Gooden himself. As Pruitt tries to rebuild Rocky Top, this is the No. 1 thing he did not need.