KNOXVILLE — Tennessee coach Derek Dooley expects to work from the press box again Saturday against No. 1 Alabama as he recovers from hip surgery, and he has plenty of company on the Volunteers’ injury list.
Dooley said tailback Rajion Neal was doubtful for the Alabama game after injuring an ankle last week in a 41-31 loss at Mississippi State. Linebacker Curt Maggitt’s status is uncertain because of “a stinger issue,” Dooley said. Quarterback Tyler Bray hurt his knee, cornerback Justin Coleman sustained a head injury and backup tailback Marlin Lane hurt his quadriceps muscle against Mississippi State, but all three players are probable for the Alabama game.
Dooley said he probably would have to coach from the press box again Saturday, though he didn’t like being away from the sideline last week. Dooley underwent surgery on a fractured right hip Tuesday and spent the Mississippi State game in the press box, the first time he’d worked a game from that vantage point since his 2005-06 stint as the Miami Dolphins’ tight ends coach.
“It’s really frustrating when you can see something and you can’t look guys in the eye to try and correct it,” Dooley said.
Dooley doesn’t know the exact cause of his hip injury. Dooley noted that he might have “tweaked” it while waterskiing this summer.
“I thought I had a little muscle pull,” Dooley said. “What are you going to do, stop your life because you’ve got a little muscle pull? It never healed for two months and it kept getting worse and worse. It took me two months to say, ‘Maybe it’s not a muscle pull,’ and to go to a doctor.”
Neal has run for 500 yards and five touchdowns on 112 carries to rank seventh in the SEC in rushing. His injury could create an opportunity for Devrin Young, who played quite a bit against Mississippi State after Neal and Lane were sidelined.
Young gained 58 yards on 13 carries against Mississippi State, but he also had a fumble that led to a Mississippi State fourth-quarter touchdown.
“I personally felt like I might have lost that game for us with that key fumble,” Young said. “It hurt me real bad. I was real sad about that loss. We were given 24 hours to be sad about it, and now it’s time to move on.”
Young said the playing time he received against Mississippi State should help him against Alabama, assuming Neal’s injury does indeed force him into an expanded role. Young has the faith of his teammates, who appreciate the 5-foot-8, 172-pound sophomore’s toughness.
“Every running play we could have thrown at him, he could have carried the load on Saturday night,” sophomore offensive tackle Antonio Richardson said. “He’s going to get a lot of carries this week, I believe. We trust him.”
Maggitt’s injury situation has become all too familiar this season.
After cracking the starting lineup as a true freshman last season, Maggitt injured a toe in a season-opening victory over North Carolina State this year and hasn’t been quite the same since. Maggitt recorded 56 tackles last season, but he has only 16 stops so far this year.
“We’re not as good on defense without him,” Dooley said. “It’s just a lingering problem. He couldn’t play much in that (Mississippi State) game, and I don’t know how much he’s going to play this game.”
Notes: After the Vols’ loss to Mississippi State, a message calling for the firing of Dooley was painted on “the Rock,” a campus landmark and often is decorated with various artwork or notes. The message, which included the words “Fire Fooley,” was quickly painted over. ... Junior kicker Michael Palardy likely will handle the Vols’ punting duties as well against Alabama. After Matt Darr made a 13-yard punt that led to a Mississippi State touchdown Saturday, Palardy replaced him and averaged 44.7 yards on three attempts. ... Dooley said he would have a more active role in working with the Vols’ defense as they attempt to end their struggles on that side of the ball. Tennessee has allowed 31.5 points per game overall and 43 points per game in SEC competition as it adjusts to a switch from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4 alignment under new coordinator Sal Sunseri. “I’m not going to go micromanage what we do and how we do it, but I’m certainly going to have a say — a bigger say — in it because ultimately it’s my responsibility,” Dooley said.