At practice on Tuesday afternoon, freshman running back Jeremy Banks was working with the linebackers for the first time all season. Banks enrolled at Tennessee as a running back out of Cordova High School, but eight weeks into the season, he’s now moved to the defensive side of the ball.
Head coach Jeremy Pruitt was seen giving Banks one-on-one instructions in the open portion of Tuesday’s practice, and on Wednesday’s SEC coaches teleconference, Pruitt confirmed Banks’ move to inside linebacker and even went as far as to say that the freshman “could possibly play this week” against South Carolina.
Cowboy collar and all, Banks once again worked with the inside linebackers throughout Wednesday afternoon’s practice. He received more one-on-one training from the coaches – this time from co-defensive coordinator and inside linebackers’ coach Kevin Sherrer.
“He’s (Banks) practiced for three days on defense, so he probably doesn’t have a whole lot of knowledge for what we’re trying to get done,” Pruitt said following Wednesday’s practice. “He thought he was going to die out there because he took a ton of reps. I told him it’s a little different over there than sitting there swapping out (at running back).
“There’s only one ball. You’ve got four running backs, and they sit there and rotate through. He got in a bunch of reps the last few days.”
Banks burst on to the scene against ETSU in the Vols’ second game of this season, rushing for 62 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries. He followed it up with 45 yards against UTEP and then a rushing touchdown against Florida.
The true freshman was on the verge of cementing himself within the Vols’ running back rotation for years to come, but there was one problem: Banks couldn’t hold on to the football.
With multiple fumbles on the season and a couple of close calls, Banks saw his carries drop to six against Georgia. In the following games against Auburn and Alabama, he didn’t receive a single carry. Having fallen out of the rotation at running back, Pruitt thought it was the perfect time to move Banks to the defensive side of the ball despite it being in the middle of the season.
“He’s a hitter, he’s physical – he likes ball,” Pruitt said of Banks. “I think he’s a guy that can play there (linebacker). He hasn’t had any carries in the last couple of games. He could be a good running back, and he still might go back there, but I think this will good for him.”
Most players would sulk when their playing time is cut to nearly nothing. But Banks showed a level of maturity that many true freshmen don’t have. In the midst of a blowout loss in Athens, Banks approached Pruitt with an idea to help him get on the field and help his team.
“It’s kind of funny,” Pruitt stated. “He asked me to move to linebacker in the fourth quarter of the Georgia game. I just told him I didn’t think now is the time to talk about it.
“He was just looking for an opportunity to play, and I think he has the skill set to do it.”
Banks likely won’t make too big of an impact this Saturday against South Carolina, but the move is already impacting Tennessee. The Vols are now on the search for a fourth running back to fill his shoes, and according to Pruitt, that role will be filled by junior Carlin Fils-aime.
“I think if we’re going to move Jeremy to linebacker, we’re going to need to have a fourth running back,” Pruitt explained. “Carlin (Fils-aime) is a guy that has played snaps here (running back) before, is a fast guy, has a good change of direction. We’re just trying to manage the roster and create an opportunity for everybody.”
Fils-aime signed with Tennessee in 2016 as a running back out of Florida. In his first two seasons with the Vols, he rushed for 273 yards and four touchdowns on 45 carries. Despite averaging 6.1 yards per rush, Pruitt moved him to defensive back due to depth concerns in the secondary.
But now that Banks has been moved to linebacker, Fils-aime’s role as a running back is a bigger need.
“Carlin has worked really hard to be a defensive back,” Pruitt said. “I think he feels more natural playing running back. So just like Jeremy, I would never move a guy unless that’s what they wanted to do.
“It’s tough to transition during the middle of the year, so what you really wanna do is make it during an off week, or you never really wanna do it. Both guys have a lot of football ahead of them.”
Banks and Fils-aime will look to contribute from their new positions against South Carolina in Columbia on Saturday night. Kick-off is set for 7:30 p.m. ET on the SEC Network.