Vols lose two key defensive starters for the season

Updated: September 10, 2006, 8:08 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

On the eve of its rivalry game against No. 7 Florida, No. 13 Tennessee lost two key defensive starters for the season, the school announced Sunday.

Defensive tackle Justin Harrell (biceps) and cornerback Inquoris "Inky" Johnson (shoulder) were hurt in the Volunteers' 31-30 victory over Air Force on Saturday night, in which Tennessee had to stop the Falcons' two-point conversion attempt with 1:35 left.

"Inky Johnson has sustained a severe injury to his right upper extremity," Tennessee head athletic trainer Jason McVeigh said in a statement. "He underwent surgery to repair blood vessels and will require further surgery for nerve injury in the future. He is in stable condition at this time. He will not return to play this season. The family has requested that the media and fans respect his privacy during this time.

"Justin Harrell sustained a ruptured biceps tendon in the game Saturday night," the statement continued. "The injury will require surgery to be corrected. He will not return to play this season. It is anticipated that he will make a full recovery."

Harrell, a 306-pound senior, is Tennessee's best pass rusher and had 7½ sacks last season.

Johnson, who emerged as one of the Vols' top defensive backs last season, was knocked unconscious while making a tackle late in the Air Force game. He was immobilized and carried off the field on a stretcher. Fulmer said Johnson regained consciousness before leaving the field.

"We're just really glad it's not anything with the head or neck," Fulmer said Sunday.

The Volunteers were already thin in the secondary after losing junior Roshaun Fellows to a season-ending shoulder injury during the preseason. Sophomore Demetrice Morley replaced Johnson late in the Air Force game and will be a candidate to replace him against the Gators. The Vols also could move one of their two safeties, Jonathan Hefney or Antwan Stewart, to cornerback, or go with a younger player such as Antonio Gaines.

"We're thin back there a little bit," Fulmer said.

Also, Tennessee tailback Arian Foster sprained his ankle in the first half of the Air Force game and never returned. He is questionable to play against the Gators.

Mark Schlabach, who covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com, contributed to this report. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

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