So far in his short Tennessee career, Jeremy Banks has gone back-and-forth between playing offense and defense.
Banks joined the Vols as a borderline four-star prospect out of Cordova, TN in Tennessee’s 2018 signing class. When Banks first joined the Vols, he practiced at running back and looked to have a fairly high ceiling there. As a true freshman, Banks flashed ability as a bruising short-yardage back who could pick up tough yards in critical third down situations or at the goal line.
But then he couldn’t hold on to the football.
During the first five games of Tennessee’s 2018 season, Banks had accumulated 161 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns on 41 carries. But Banks also fumbled the ball several times, losing the trust of his coaches in the process.
That prompted a move to defense, where Banks looked to have an even higher ceiling than he did at running back.
According to head coach Jeremy Pruitt, Banks asked to be moved to linebacker after Tennessee’s match-up with Georgia, and the staff eventually obliged. Banks practiced at linebacker and looked like he would see the field some on defense.
That never happened, however.
Banks tallied a few special teams tackles in 2018, but he never played on defense, and he was moved back to running back just a few weeks after switching to linebacker. The 6-foot-1, 225-pound Banks stayed at running back when Tennessee opened up spring practices earlier this year, and he remained with the offense to open up fall camp as well.
It looked like Banks’ brief experiment at linebacker wouldn’t amount to a career at the position. But things, once again, changed for the Tennessee native.
Late into fall camp, Banks was moved back to linebacker after senior inside linebacker Daniel Bituli had to undergo a minor procedure on his knee. Tennessee’s depth at the inside linebacker spot was thin, leading Pruitt to move Banks back to defense.
That’s where Banks has spent the 2019 season so far, totaling four tackles and a tackle for loss in UT’s first two games.
But could another change back to offense be in Banks’ future?
During the weekly Vol Calls call-in show this week, Pruitt was asked about Banks and his ability as a running back. Tennessee had several short-yardage situations on offense against both Georgia State and BYU where they couldn’t pick up the necessary yardage to keep a drive alive. Banks’ bigger frame makes him an ideal candidate in those situations, but he’s stayed on defense and hasn’t been used out of the Vols’ backfield in 2019.
When asked if another move back to offense is in the cards for Banks, Pruitt stated that Banks actually wants to play running back, and it’s possible the sophomore could move back there. Pruitt is hesitant to move Banks back to offense, however, because he sees a very bright future ahead of Banks on defense.
“Jeremy, he really wants to play running back, and he moved over (to linebacker) when Daniel (Bituli) got hurt, because basically we had about three inside linebackers,” Pruitt said on Wednesday. “Unfortunately, Tim Jordan got hurt in the first game, so last week we only dressed two scholarship running backs (against BYU).
“In my opinion, I think Jeremy could be a really good player at both positions. Obviously, on the offensive side, he’s got to learn to hold on to the football a little bit. Defensively, I think if he played linebacker full-time, he could be as good as any linebacker I’ve ever coached. That’s a decision that we’ve got to make moving forward.”
With Daniel Bituli looking like he’s set to return either this upcoming weekend against UT-Chattanooga or next weekend against Florida, that gives Tennessee a much-needed boost in their linebacking group. Bituli is in charge of lining up the defense correctly — something UT has struggled with to start the year — and he’s the most experienced linebacker on Tennessee’s roster.
Could Bituli’s return prompt a move back to offense for Banks? Tim Jordan, who didn’t play against BYU, is expected to be back this Saturday against UTC, but Jordan isn’t exactly a “big back.” Jordan is more of a power back than Ty Chandler or Eric Gray, but at 5-foot-11, 203 pounds, he’s only two pounds heavier than Chandler and measures in at the exact same height.
Banks’ 6-foot-1, 225-pound frame would be huge for a Vol offense that’s gone a combined 8-of-15 on third down attempts when facing four or fewer yards to start the 2019 season.
According to Pruitt, he and his staff have considered using Banks in special situations like that and at the goal line because of his physical, bruising nature on offense. In fact, the coaching staff has also toyed with the idea of using freshman linebacker Quavaris Crouch in a similar role. Both Banks and Crouch played running back in high school, and both were highly effective. Banks, obviously, has also played running back in college some, but Crouch has only ever practiced and played at linebacker since coming to UT.
“We’ve actually considered doing that,” Pruitt said when asked during the weekly SEC coaches teleconference on Wednesday about using Banks or Crouch as short-yardage backs. “Jeremy is really a running back by nature. We moved him to linebacker just based on need. We definitely could do that at some point. Something we could do with ‘Q’ (Crouch). ‘Q’ got banged up in fall camp, so it eliminated some of the opportunities to do that.
“Absolutely they’re bigger-bodied guys. We’ve got to do a better job up front, stepping with the right foot, getting our head where it needs to go, and get more push up front, also.”
Right now, Banks’ future is up in the air. Pruitt believes the sophomore could excel at linebacker, but Banks may want to spend his career on offense instead. One thing is for certain: flip-flopping Banks between positions early in his career won’t do him any good down the line.
Pruitt understands that, and he says they’ll see where they are with Banks in another week’s time. From there, they’ll try and work out what position is the right fit.
“You just want to figure out what’s best for him in the future,” Pruitt said on Vol Calls. “But one thing I’ll never do is get a guy to play a position that he doesn’t want to.
“He’s playing linebacker for another week, and we’ll see where he goes. He could go over there (to running back) today. He knows the plays on offense.”