Bad injury luck continues for Tennessee Football. This time, the Vols lose a wide receiver just as he was about to hit his stride. Dont’e Thornton will miss the remainder of the regular season with a right lower-leg injury, Josh Heupel confirmed in his Monday press conference.
The injury came on a 46-yard touchdown pass Thornton caught from Joe Milton III against the Missouri Tigers Saturday as the Vols lost 36-7. Thornton made an amazing grab, and at the time, it gave UT a 7-3 lead. However, he was never able to return to the game.
This is extremely bad luck for Tennessee Football. A highly touted transfer from the Oregon Ducks, Thornton had been written off as a disappointment for most of the season. However, he started to come on strong late, beginning against the Kentucky Wildcats.
That game came a month after Bru McCoy suffered his season-ending injury, and it seemed like Thornton, who stands at 6’5″ 214 pounds, was finally developing into the wideout who could replace him. As a result, this injury is sad for Thornton and a big issue for the Vols.
Now, once again, Heupel, Joey Halzle and Kelsey Pope are tasked with trying to find a wideout who can dictate coverage. Ramel Keyton is a great possession option, but he doesn’t do that. Squirrel White is a playmaker in the slot, but he won’t roll a safety over. Thornton was just turning into that.
Could Chas Nimrod be the answer? Before Thornton began to emerge, he was turning eyes. Nimrod and Kaleb Webb both have seen action, and both were part of the Vols’ 2022 recruiting class, bringing a ton of hype with them. There’s still Nathan Leacock as well.
At the very least, Tennessee Football has a chance to develop more receivers and have more depth next year when Nico Iamaleava steps in at quarterback. However, at this moment, they have a lot of things they need to figure out if they are going to finish the season the right way.
A major upset opportunity against the Georgia Bulldogs this weekend got that much harder with Thornton out. More pressure is on Joe Milton III, who still has a lot to play for with the 2024 NFL Draft looming. Still, UT has options given how Josh Heupel has recruited at the position.
Injuries have been a big issue for Tennessee Football, unlike last year. McCoy going down was obviously huge, as was Kamal Hadden suffering a season-ending injury just as he turned into the SEC’s best cornerback. Cooper Mays missing the first four games of the year was also costly.