When Tennessee took the field on Saturday for the season opener at South Carolina, Jeremy Pruitt’s defense was down a pair of key defenders.

Senior defensive lineman Darel Middleton and senior defensive back Shawn Shamburger were nowhere to be found.

Middleton appeared in every game for Tennessee last season, making six starts. During his junior season, Middleton had 28 tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack. He also forced a fumble and registered a blocked kick for the Vols.

Not having Shamburger in the lineup, who started 12 games at the nickelback spot for Tennessee in 2019, really hurt the Vols in the team’s attempts to cover Gamecock receiver, Shi Smith.

While South Carolina only had two receivers catch a pass in the opener, Smith made 10 catches for 140 yards and a touchdown.

So why were those two Vols missing from the lineup?

While he wouldn’t come right out and reveal the answer, Jeremy Pruitt shed light on why those players missed the game.

“Well, we talked about last week about, from a standpoint of COVID and everything that’s going on, I just, I really don’t think it’s fair to the players to, you know, probably (state) why they’re not there,” Pruitt said on Monday. “Hopefully, if everything works out, we can get these guys back very soon.”

Pruitt was then asked a follow-up regarding if discipline issues played a part in neither player seeing the field.

“No. No. It’s not player discipline,” Pruitt answered.

Will they be available for Missouri?

“We’ll see as the week goes,” the Tennessee coach noted.

For what it’s worth, Middleton shared on social media that he has been cleared to play against Missouri.