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Jeremy Pruitt says Baylen Buchanan could return this year

He could still redshirt, too.

NCAA Football: Tennessee at West Virginia Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

You may not remember by now, but Tennessee got hit pretty hard with the injury bug in fall camp. The Vols lost senior defensive tackle Emmit Gooden for the year, senior linebacker Daniel Bituli for two weeks and lost Baylen Buchanan to a unique, ongoing spine injury.

Tennessee also suspended Bryce Thompson during this time, losing him for the first three games of the season. It’s no wonder why the Volunteers couldn’t even get lined up defensively against Georgia State, but even that isn’t a worth excuse.

Jeremy Pruitt’s team has since rebounded, finding its groove over the last month and now has a chance to go to a bowl game. Might they get another one of those seniors back for the end of the year? Pruitt updated the status of Baylen Buchanan on Wednesday.

“He’ll see the doctor tomorrow,” Pruitt said after practice. “If he gets what the docs are looking for, he might be able to play by next week. Or the week after. If he don’t, they might say lets let him practice for a while and see where he’s at first.”

Buchanan hasn’t played all year. He was expected to start at the ‘STAR’ position this year, but wasn’t able to overcome a spine issue in camp. That forced Tennessee to shuffle the defense, which took a while to find the correct combination in the secondary.

Now, Tennessee might just get him back in time to finish his senior season.

“Whatever they say, we’ll do,” Pruitt said of the doctors. “But he’s working hard to get back to play. Based off the information that I’ve been told, there’s a good possibility that will happen.”

Pruitt floated the idea of redshirting Buchanan early in the year, meaning Buchanan could return in 2020 if he wanted to. Now even if he returned this year, Buchanan would still be allowed to redshirt because he wouldn’t appear in more than four games.

So Tennessee might get a big boost to the secondary to end the season — and still get Buchanan back for next year. Sounds like a nice deal for Pruitt and Derrick Ansley.

Tennessee will already return two 2019 seniors in 2020. Emmit Gooden will stick around and return after an ACL injury in camp, while receiver Brandon Johnson has already redshirted and will return with an opportunity for more playing time next season.

Buchanan’s situation is one to monitor over the next couple of weeks.