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Two key Tennessee starters have been cleared to return ahead of an important Week 9 SEC East battle vs. Kentucky, according to multiple reports. Wide receiver Cedric Tillman is expected to see action for the first time since suffering an ankle injury in Week 3, while starting safety Jaylen McCollough has been cleared to play by the university and its athletic department.

Tillman suffered a high-ankle sprain in the win over Akron on Sept. 17. He underwent the "tightrope" surgery on Sept. 29, and his status has been uncertain over the last couple of weeks. His 246 yards receiving is still good enough for fourth-best on the team, aided undoubtedly by his 162-yard performance in a Week 2 win over Pittsburgh. Tillman emerged as a star last year when he led the team with 1,081 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns. 

"We'll see where he's at when we get through tomorrow and on game day," said coach Josh Heupel on Thursday. "Again, Cedric is going to be a part of that decision. And our medical staff, doing what's best for him in the longterm and short term."

McCollough will return after missing the Vols' previous two games vs. Alabama and UT-Martin following an arrest for felony aggravated assault on Oct. 9. 

"You guys have heard me say earlier that he's been cleared on the campus side of it," said Heupel. "Whoever looks at that has decided that based on the evidence that they've cleared him. He's been with us here the last week, so we'll see."

Multiple eyewitness accounts corroborate McCollough's version of the incident, according to his attorney Chloe Akers, in which an intoxicated man left a friend's apartment to get items from his car and entered McCollough's residence by mistake upon returning. The eyewitness accounts reveal that the man threatened to reenter McCollough's apartment, and that McCollough punched him once. 

The initial account of the incident from the victim states that McCollough followed him out of the apartment and assaulted him at the top of a flight of stars, which caused him to fall down the stairs and lose consciousness. A preliminary hearing in McCollough's case has been set for Nov. 18, but Akers has asked that it be moved up to Nov. 10 and for charges to be dropped, citing self defense. 

If McCollough does play vs. Kentucky -- health and missed practices are considered the only potential snags -- it'll be a huge boost for a defense that has struggled to defend the pass. McCollough is a four-year starter with three career interceptions and 148 tackles, and he will help a defense that ranks last in the SEC in pass defense (329.7 yards per game). The 6-foot, 205-pound senior had 23 tackles, one of which was for a loss, in five games before the arrest.

No. 3 Tennessee (7-0, 3-0 SEC) will tee it up with No. 19 Kentucky (5-2, 2-2 SEC) in Knoxville, Tennessee, on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET.