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Both Tennessee, Pittsburgh Facing Injury Questions Ahead Of Top 25 Matchup

Tennessee Bowl
Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

We’re just one week into the 2022 college football season but injuries are a factor for both Tennessee and Pittsburgh ahead of this weekend’s top 25 matchup in the Steel City.

No. 24 Tennessee had five players inactive for its season opener against Ball State, headlined by co-starting MIKE linebacker Juwan Mitchell. Most inactive Vols weren’t likely to earn a major role this season, though corner Dee Williams was a potential starting punt returner and could be a part of Tennessee’s cornerback rotation.

Second year coach Josh Heupel didn’t fully update the status of any injured Vols Monday but did provide a brief update on Mitchell. Heupel’s comments weren’t overly telling but it does mean Mitchell hasn’t yet been ruled out.

“Juwan’s ability to be able to be healthy enough to play for us, we’ll find out here at the end of the week,” Heupel said Monday.

Mitchell has been an enigma in his two years at Tennessee. The 6-foot-1, 235-pound linebacker played sparingly in the first month of the 2021 season before undergoing season ending shoulder surgery.

Tennessee’s coaches had plenty of praise for a more consistent Mitchell during fall practice, but the changes have yet to manifest on the field.

More From RTI: Why Tennessee Played Freshman Defenders Early In Opener

A pair of Pitt players left the Panthers’ season opening win over West Virginia due to injury. Defensive lineman Deslin Alexandre and running back Rodney Hammond Jr. exited the game with injuries.

No. 17 Pitt’s head coach Pat Narduzzi didn’t provide injury updates for either on Monday as the eighth year head coach plays thinks close to the vest with injuries.

Alexandre recorded 39 tackles and two sacks a season ago. The redshirt senior has played a major role along the Panthers’ defensive line since 2019 but Pitt has no shortage of capable defensive lineman.

Hammond was Pitt’s backup running back on its preseason depth chart, but turned in the best performance of any Panthers’ running back week one. After rushing for 504 yards and five touchdowns as a freshman, Hammond rushed for 74 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries in his sophomore debut.

The 5-foot-9, 200-pound running back exited the game with a nasty ankle turn. Narduzzi hasn’t updated Hammond’s status this week, but the sophomore is now a co-starter along with junior Israel Abanikanda.

Abanikanda ran for just 15 yards on eight carries against West Virginia.

Kick off between the Vols and Panthers is at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday inside Acrisure Stadium. Sean McDonough, Todd Blackledge and Molly McGrath are on the call for ABC.

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