As the injuries continue to build up, Robbie Caldwell continues to be amazed by the job the Vanderbilt medical staff does.
Of course, the physicians and athletic trainers are probably learning a thing or too from the Commodores’ football coach.
Chances are, however, they haven’t taken him up on any of his treatment ideas yet, especially not for the reoccurring ankle injuries that have plagued Vanderbilt this season.
“That is the new term over the last few years – high ankle sprain," Caldwell said. "Lord have mercy, you used to take two salt tablets and a glass of water and roll on. But I don’t know. It is tougher now. We are so good in the medical profession now. You can pinpoint it right down to anything. I used to tell the linemen we didn’t have hamstring injuries because linemen don’t have hamstrings.”
Unfortunately for the Commodores, the bruises and twists and breaks have been no joking matter this season.
Redshirt-freshman tight end Mason Johnston became the latest to be sidelined for the rest of the season. He tore his ACL in Vanderbilt’s 38-20 loss to Kentucky on Saturday and will have surgery in four weeks.
His backup, Fitz Lassing, is expected to play this weekend against Tennessee. Lassing was out all of practice all last week and didn’t play against Kentucky due to mononucleosis.
“Haven’t done anything in a week, week and a half, he certainly won’t be running on all cylinders,” Caldwell said. “We’ll have to build his stamina a little bit.”
Defensive end Walker May, center Joey Bailey and offensive lineman James Kittredge, all three victims of high ankle sprains, are also questionable. May and Kittredge’s chances of returning are less promising.
Running back Wesley Tate played against Kentucky after leaving the Florida game the week before with a foot injury. He was used in a limited role, just getting two carries but blocking for Kennard Reeves, who finished with 105 yards on 19 carries. Tate might play again Saturday.
Vanderbilt is scarce in the backfield with sophomore tailbacks Warren Norman (wrist) and Zac Stacy (head) done for the season.
Cornerback Jamie Graham and defensive tackle Adam Smotherman are also doubtful to return after suffering knee injuries in the last couple weeks.
In fact, all four captains – Bailey, Smotherman, linebacker Chris Marve and defensive tackle T.J. Greenstone – have missed games this year.
“At times, from mental toughness, from pushing through pain, things of that sort, we have a lot of guys playing hard,” Greenstone said. “I think if this game was solely based on effort, we would have a great record.”
The injuries, though, have taken a toll on Vanderbilt’s win-loss record. The Commodores (2-8, 1-6 SEC) are stuck in a five-game losing streak as they host a Tennessee squad that is on a mini-winning streak.
The Volunteers (4-6, 1-5) are coming off their first SEC win – a 52-14 blowout against Mississippi – and have won two straight as they still have a chance to become bowl eligible. Freshman quarterback Tyler Bray stepped in and made his first start against Memphis on Nov. 6 and hasn’t disappointed. He has thrown for 648 yards and eight touchdowns with no interceptions in two games.
“You want to beat people when they are at their best,” Greenstone said. “We don’t want to play people who are down and banged up and missing key players. When we play people, we want to beat them with their best just like I think anybody would want to.”
The Vols, however, most likely won’t be seeing a depleted Vanderbilt squad at its peak. Still, Tennessee, like Vanderbilt, will take a win however it can.
The Commodores have lost five straight against their intra-state rival and 26 of their last 27 meetings.
A win, and staying healthy, would huge for Vanderbilt. If injury does happen Caldwell can rest easy knowing the professionals are on the job.
“I tell you (head athletic trainer) Tom Bossung gets them back quicker than anybody I have seen,” Caldwell said. “I have been doing it for 35 years and he does an unbelievable job. It is amazing."
• Wide receiver Udom Umoh will be out for the first half against Tennessee. Umoh was ejected in the fourth quarter for an altercation with Kentucky cornerback Martavius Neloms. Both players were flagged for personal fouls on the play. The NCAA rule is that an ejection for fighting leads to mandatory suspension of at least one half.
Caldwell said the explanation he received for the ejection was that Umoh “slapped a hand down off his facemask.”
“We’ll certainly appeal it but you never know,” Caldwell said. “There is a big ruckus going on on the other side (at Kentucky). It is ugly. The league’s got it. They are aware of it.”
• Quarterback Jordan Rodgers, who is redshirting this season, had surgery last week for a torn labrum. The junior college transfer, who is the younger brother of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, had been hampered by the arm injury since August.
“I’m anxious to see how that repair went,” Caldwell said.
• It was announced Monday that the kickoff for Vanderbilt’s regular-season finale against visiting Wake Forest on Nov. 27 will be at 6:30 p.m. The game will be aired on CSS (Channel 27).