KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee has suspended starting defensive end Darrell Taylor indefinitely, the latest adversity for a team that has dropped its first two Southeastern Conference games and is coming off its most lopsided home loss since 1905.
Volunteers coach Butch Jones said Monday that “multiple factors” had led to Taylor’s suspension without going into specifics.
“There has been no timetable set on his return,” Jones said. “He’ll have certain stipulations and requirements that must be met.”
Taylor already had been expected to miss the first half of Tennessee’s game with South Carolina (4-2, 2-2 SEC) on Saturday because he’d received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for fighting in the second half of the Vols’ 41-0 loss to No. 4 Georgia on Sept. 30. Now Taylor won’t play at all against the Gamecocks.
This disciplinary move leaves Tennessee (3-2, 0-2) without one of its top defensive linemen.
Taylor had started each of Tennessee’s first five games. The sophomore from Waverly, Virginia, has 20 overall tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack this season. He also had forced and recovered a fumble.
With Taylor suspended, junior defensive end Kyle Phillips has moved atop the depth chart and should make his second career start this week. Phillips has nine overall tackles and two tackles for loss this season.
“He’s made a few plays for us already,” senior defensive tackle Kendal Vickers said. “We just need him to keep rolling.”
Vickers cited freshman Matthew Butler as another player who may need to step up in Taylor’s absence. Butler has played in only two of Tennessee’s first five games.
This represents one more blow for a defense that already has lost its best returning linebacker (Darrin Kirkland Jr.) and top returning tackler (Todd Kelly Jr.) from last year to season-ending injuries. Tennessee also has been playing without projected starting linebackers Austin Smith and Cortez McDowell plus safety/kick returner Evan Berry due to injuries. Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop says Smith should be ready to make his season debut this week.
It’s also the latest bid of bad news for a team seeking to bounce back as it returns from its bye week.
In its last three games, Tennessee fell 26-20 to Florida on a tiebreaking 63-yard touchdown pass as time expired, edged 27 ½-point underdog Massachusetts 17-13 and suffered the blowout loss to Georgia.
The Georgia game marked Tennessee’s first shutout loss since 1994. Tennessee hadn’t lost a home game by such a wide margin since falling 45-0 to Vanderbilt in 1905.
“Obviously coming off a tough loss like that to Georgia, people are going to ask questions, but I think the bye week was at a perfect time,” senior offensive lineman Brett Kendrick said. “We got some of our health back.”
Vickers says he’s spent the last week or so reminding his teammates what remains at stake.
“I really just try to stress that we have a lot of season left,” Vickers said. “We’ve got a lot to play for. We’ve just got to keep grinding, got to keep going and things will fall our way, in our direction. Just go out and work. That’s all we can do.”
The Vols insist that team chemistry hasn’t been a problem.
Jones cited the way the team approached its bye week as an opportunity to get better rather than treating it like an “off week.” Jones said it was “if not the best bye week, one of the best bye weeks we’ve had here in a very, very long time.”
“They’re as strong and they’re as committed as they’ve ever been,” Jones said. “I see it every day. That’s what leads me to believe we’re going to be OK.”
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