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Len’Neth Whitehead out for the season due to injury

Big blow to the running back depth.

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel Caitie McMekin/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

Tennessee Head Coach Josh Heupel announced today that running back Len’Neth Whitehead will miss the upcoming season with an upper body injury.

The redshirt sophomore played in eight games last year and accumulated 207 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries.

Per the KNS, Whitehead suffered the injury a few weeks ago and has had the surgery that effectively ended his season before it really even got started.

Whitehead’s best game last year was against Missouri, when he carried the ball nine times for 76 yards. That total includes a 33-yard, career-long run late in the game when the big back showed some good burst.

With the transfer of Tiyon Evans at the end of last year (Louisville), it’s really just Jabari Small and rising sophomore Jaylen Wright left in the running back room who have any live-game experience. That factor, plus Whitehead’s size — he’s listed at 6-foot-2, 220 pounds — it stood to reason that the bigger ball carrier could have been in line for an increase in duties this season.

A bit further: Tennessee’s troubles in short-yardage situations last year are well documented, and it’s tough not to see this as a pretty considerable blow for the offense. Or, at least, as big a blow as a third-string back’s injury can be for any team’s offense.

Former UT jumbo running back/ athlete Dee Beckwith also transferred after last season and has since ended up at Kentucky.

The Vols added two running backs in the 2022 recruiting class in four-star recruit Justin Williams-Thomas and three-star back Dylan Sampson, though neither seem to immediately fill the need for a big, powerful back.