Tennessee senior safety Jaylen McCollough, who missed the past two games after being charged with felony aggravated assault, has been cleared by both the university and athletic department to resume playing, sources told ESPN on Thursday.
The No. 3 Vols face No. 19 Kentucky on Saturday in Neyland Stadium, and coach Josh Heupel told reporters Thursday that McCollough was with the Vols this week practicing.
"So we'll see," Heupel said as to whether McCollough would play against the Wildcats.
McCollough, a four-year starter, was arrested Oct. 9 when a man told police he was assaulted by McCollough. The man said he had been drinking with friends at an apartment, left to retrieve some items from his car, returned and mistakenly entered the wrong apartment, which was McCollough's. The man told police McCollough followed him out of the apartment and punched him at the top of the stairs, "approximately 30 feet from the door," causing the man to fall backward down the stairs and lose consciousness.
A preliminary hearing in McCollough's case has been set for Nov. 18, but his attorney, Chloe Akers, has asked that the hearing be moved up to Nov. 10 and will seek to have the charge dismissed because she said McCollough was acting in self defense. She said eyewitnesses, including McCollough's roommate and teammate Warren Burrell, saw McCollough punch the man once, but only after the man threatened to re-enter the apartment, and that the punch occurred within two feet of their front door.
Sources told ESPN that missed practice time and any lingering health concerns would be the main factors in whether McCollough plays this weekend, decisions that Heupel and the medical staff make. Police said that when they talked to McCollough prior to arresting him, his right hand was in bandages with blood soaking through.
Sources also said university and athletic department officials were in agreement that any conduct issues would not be what prevented McCollough from playing, and that those same officials feel confident McCollough was not in the wrong in the altercation and will ultimately be cleared of the felony charge.
Heupel has said McCollough was not suspended following the incident, although McCollough did not play against either Alabama or UT Martin in the next two games. McCollough had already undergone the university's student judicial process and was not found to be in violation of the university's code of student conduct.
McCollough, who has 32 career starts, was tied for fourth on the team with 23 tackles after recording seven tackles against LSU on Oct. 1.
Tennessee receiver Cedric Tillman, who has missed the past four games after undergoing tightrope surgery on his left ankle, is expected to be a game-time decision against Kentucky. Tillman was an All-SEC selection a year ago and led the Vols in catches (64), receiving yards (1,081) and touchdown catches (12).
"We'll see where he's at when we get through [Friday] and on game day," Heupel said. "Cedric is going to be a part of that decision and our medical staff ... doing what's best for him in the long term and short term."