KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr.’s knee injury will prevent him from playing at all this season, leaving the 25th-ranked Volunteers without one of their projected top defenders.

Vols coach Butch Jones announced the severity of Kirkland’s injury Friday. Jones said Wednesday that Kirkland had undergone meniscus surgery earlier that day but said at the time there wasn’t yet a timetable for the junior’s potential return.

“We had a positive outlook that it could be three to four to five weeks, but unfortunately that’s not the news that came about,” Jones said. “He’ll miss the entire season. I know Darrin’s extremely disappointed. His family’s extremely disappointed. But just like anything in life, he’ll be better for it, he’ll work exceptionally hard and we look forward to getting him back.”

This marks the second straight season that early injuries have damaged Tennessee’s linebacker corps.

Last year, Kirkland missed five games with a high ankle sprain and eventual Detroit Lions fourth-round draft pick Jalen Reeves-Maybin appeared in just four games due to a shoulder injury.

Kirkland made 45 tackles last season. He started 10 games and had 66 tackles as a freshman in 2015.

Colton Jumper will take over Kirkland’s spot at Mike linebacker Monday when Tennessee opens the season against Georgia Tech at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Tennessee’s other projected starting linebackers are senior Cortez McDowell and sophomore Austin Smith.

Jumper is a former walk-on who has made 10 starts over the last two seasons. He started seven games and had 61 tackles to rank fourth on the team last year.

“At first, your heart breaks for (Kirkland), but then you know the kind of kid that he is, you know the kind of guy that he is,” Jumper said Thursday. “You know he’ll be back, and he’ll be back better.”


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