Bad luck seems to follow Tennessee football. The limbo status of Trey Smith and injury to Emmit Gooden only further prove that for the Volunteers.
Whenever a new head coach takes over a program and tries to rebuild it from the ground up, there are always things working against him. That was no different for Tennessee football when Jeremy Pruitt took over in 2018.
It always makes things harder when injuries hit, but hey, they are part of the game. So when Trey Smith, who was out of contact drills during Pruitt’s first offseason due to blood clots, had them return in the fall, it was just a stroke of bad luck.
Sure, when the injury comes at the expense of the one good player on your weakest unit as you’re trying to rebuild a team, it’s a bit more bad luck than usual. But part of building a program is building depth, so that’s understandable.
However, when your other perceived weakest unit the next year also loses its top player due to injury, you have to question if you’re cursed. Such is the case with Tennessee football entering 2019. Smith is still out, and despite a great recruiting class, the questions on the offensive line remain.
But while there’s hope that the line will improve after an extra year of development, the defensive line was obviously going to be the one unit to take a major step back this year after losing all three of its starters. So what do the football gods do to Pruitt and Tennessee football? They punish their only proven defensive lineman and give him a season-ending injury.
Gooden and Smith, on both sides of the ball, are the only two players in the trenches who are proven quality producers. Last year, down the stretch of the season, Gooden had seven and a half tackles for a loss and a sack as a backup. We know about Smith being a freshman All-American guard and then becoming a reliable left tackle.
Chance Hall, Eric Crosby, Melvin McBride and Nathan Niehaus all retiring on the line is one thing. Drew Richmond transferring is another. These are things that predate Pruitt and have more to do with the failed conditioning program under Butch Jones.
And Pruitt did bring in a five-star and three four-stars on the offensive line while adding two junior college transfers, including a four-star in Savion Williams, a Michigan Wolverines transfer in Aubrey Solomon who was once a five-star, and a freshman nose tackle all on the defensive line. So he may have gotten more bodies.
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With so many questions, though, the last thing he needs is to lose his best and only proven player on each side. The offensive line single-handedly kept this team out of a bowl game last year. This year, the defensive line may be the sole reason the Vols don’t take a step forward. And, in a fate of bad luck, the Vols lose their best player on both sides.
This isn’t the first time such bad luck has hit. Remember 2011? Derek Dooley inherited a mess on Rocky Top after the attrition from Phillip Fulmer to Lane Kiffin. His roster was half full in 2010, so 2011 was really like a first year with so many young guys. On top of that, the Vols were in for their toughest SEC schedule yet.
Then, they just happen to lose their two biggest weapons who could help them navigate it in quarterback Tyler Bray and wide receiver Justin Hunter. Again, if there were two injuries Dooley could not afford, it was those two. And the results set off a chain reaction that got Dooley fired the next year.
Injury bugs bite. Bad luck is part of the sport. But you would think that at some point, Tennessee football could catch a break. They certainly aren’t getting one right now with Gooden and Smith out. To be fair, there’s a chance good news surrounding Smith is right around the corner. But it doesn’t change all the evidence of just how unlucky this program is.