Two Tennessee football returning starters have 'a lot of work to do' after COVID-19 quarantine

Mike Wilson
Knoxville News Sentinel

Tennessee Vols offensive lineman Wanya Morris and defensive lineman Aubrey Solomon practiced Thursday after missing time in recent weeks for reasons related to COVID-19.

Vols coach Jeremy Pruitt said the pair of returning starters was "hit with the quarantine" during the preseason. He said Morris went through quarantine twice and practiced for only the second time in 23 days Thursday.

"They’ve got a lot of work to do," Pruitt said. "Hopefully, we can get some plays out of them next Saturday. That will be determined on the next week.”

Tennessee opens its season at South Carolina next Saturday.

Pruitt indicated Wednesday night on "The Paul Finebaum Show" that Tennessee's number of unavailable players is decreasing after a two-week stretch with "as many as 40 or players (unavailable) for practice" due to COVID-19 and contact tracing.

"Those numbers have dramatically declined over the last couple of days, so we're starting to get guys back as we start preparing for South Carolina," Pruitt said.

Morris was named second-team preseason All-SEC on Thursday. He started 12 games at left tackle as a freshman in 2019 to earn freshman All-SEC honors. The 6-foot-5, 320-pound Morris had hip surgery this spring.

Tennessee's Wanya Morris (64) does a drill during Tennessee spring practice at Haslam Field in Knoxville, Tennessee on Thursday, April 11, 2019.

Senior Jahmir Johnson is the likely starter at left tackle.

"We’re talking about an extremely athletic guy in terms of what he can do at the tackle position," offensive lineman Trey Smith said of Johnson on Tuesday. "It’s fun to watch him, honestly. It’s fun to just see what he puts on tape every day.”

Solomon, who played his first season at Tennessee in 2019 after transferring from Michigan, played in 12 games and started nine. He had 28 tackles, three tackles for loss and two sacks.

Tennessee's likely top three at defensive end are LaTrell Bumphus, Matthew Butler and Darel Middleton. Pruitt said the pass rush is "not where we would like for it to be."

Tennessee defensive linemen Aubrey Solomon (98), Greg Emerson (90), and linebacker Kivon Bennett (95) during the game against BYU on Saturday, September 7, 2019.

"That’s one thing we really have to focus on over the next nine days," Pruitt said. "We have a lot of guys that has played a lot of ball for us. We just have to get them going and get back into the groove a little bit.

"We’ve got to do that (Friday), Saturday, Monday, Tuesday and over the next four days. We have to have a lot of competitive reps at practice to get used to the game speed.”

Austin Pope update

Pruitt said tight end Austin Pope "is not going to play right now." The senior and Christian Academy of Knoxville product had surgery on a herniated disc in his back in July. 

Jordan Allen, Sean Brown, Princeton Fant and Jacob Warren are getting opportunities at tight end, Pruitt said.

"We have a lot of guys that are getting reps in there," Pruitt said. "Most of those guys have played very little football for us. They have to work on their consistency. ... I have confidence in all of those guys. Somebody has to separate themselves.” 

Sophomore tight end Jackson Lowe entered the NCAA transfer portal Wednesday.

Lowe signed with Tennessee as part of the 2019 recruiting class as a four-star prospect from Cartersville, Georgia. He redshirted last season and did not appear in any games.

Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.