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For Vols, 2017 feels like 2016 early

Photo: UTSports.com

Same song, different verse. Same book, different chapter.

Whatever your cliche of choice, the 2017 season has started off looking an awfully lot like the 2016 season for Tennessee fans.

This isn’t an article about Tennessee’s horrible run defense in Monday’s season-opener against Georgia Tech. Nor is it an article about how the Vols were fortunate to win the first game of the season in overtime against an outmanned opponent, although both of those things felt quite similar to 2016.

Rather, this is an article about injuries.

Tennessee was the most injury-riddled team in college football in 2016, which played no small part in the Vols’ late-season letdown that left them short of an SEC East crown and a trip to Atlanta for the conference championship game. At various points last season, 17 Tennessee starters were sidelined by injuries, a statistic that almost defies logic.

We’re just one game into the 2017 season, and already injuries are becoming a storyline. It began in fall camp, when it was revealed that Chance Hall — arguably the Vols’ best offensive lineman — would not be available for the 2017 season due to a lingering injury from last year. Then we learned that middle linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. will be sidelined for the entire season after a meniscus tear. The linebacker corps was further decimated when Austin Smith was forced out of action against Georgia Tech due to a knee injury of his own. And one of the Vols’ few receivers with experience, Josh Smith, missed Monday’s game with a shoulder injury.

Tennessee found itself a playmaker in Atlanta on Monday, when sophomore Marquez Callaway came on in the absence of Jauan Jennings and made several big catches — two of them for touchdowns — in the come-from-behind win.

That was the good news. The bad news is that Tennessee lost a playmaker when it was revealed on Tuesday that Jennings will likely not be back this regular season. Jennings dislocated his wrist during the second quarter of Monday’s game. He will have surgery and will miss up to 12 weeks as he recovers.

Jennings was undoubtedly the most talented receiver at the Vols’ disposal, and he plays in a unit that can hardly afford to lose anyone.

So, if you’re keeping count, that’s five starters impacted by injury . . . and we’re only one week in. Tennessee may very well have set an injury record in 2016. Let’s hope the Vols aren’t going to make a run at breaking that record in 2017.

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