RTI contributor Robert Hughes is the author of this article
Three weeks into Tennessee’s football season, the Vols’ leader in interceptions and total takeaways comes from a familiar face but an unexpected name: running-back-turned-linebacker Jeremy Banks.
After intercepting two passes against UT-Chattanooga on Saturday, the sophomore seems to finally be introducing himself as a legitimate defensive player for the Vols, much to the pleasure of Tennessee head football head coach Jeremy Pruitt. According to Pruitt, Banks’ first two career interceptions come as a product of both proper preparation and a play-making past.
“I’m glad that Jeremy (Banks) got to play, and he’s a guy that is still learning what it takes to be a good football player at the collegiate level,” Pruitt said after Saturday’s 45-0 win for the Vols. “He’s learning about the time you have to put in on your own to get prepared, and all of that comes with maturity and being around guys that know how to do things the right way.
“One thing about guys that handled the ball in high school and play defense in college, they get turnovers. They’re used to handling the ball, and you saw that in a running back getting two interceptions today.”
Banks began his Tennessee career on offense, joining the Vols as part of their 2018 signing class as a running back. And he began the 2018 season at that position as well. But fumbling issues spurred a move over to linebacker midway through the season. But Banks didn’t stay at linebacker for very long, and he was switched back to offense by November.
All through the spring and most of fall camp, Banks stayed at running back in 2019. But just over a week before the start of UT’s 2019 season, Banks was switched back to linebacker after senior Daniel Bituli had to undergo a minor procedure on his knee.
The sophomore has played at linebacker in every game to start the 2019 season, and his potential finally truly flashed on Saturday against UTC.
Banks’ inexperience on the defensive side of the ball is still apparent, but his ball-hawking skills proved to mitigate some of the technical deficiencies that he still possesses.
“He’s a guy that continues to improve, and I’m glad he was in the right spot one time,” Pruitt added. “The second [interception] he probably didn’t have nearly as good of coverage, but it was good to see that [he got the interception].”
Teammate and fellow linebacker Daniel Bituli, who played his first game of the 2019 season after coming back from the aforementioned minor knee procedure, stated that he’s been trying to convince Banks to stay at linebacker because he sees a bright future for him at that position.
After Saturday’s performance, Bituli thinks Banks will definitely listen.
“For sure. He loves contact, we all see that,” Bituli said of Banks. “He’s a great athlete, and I feel that he can do both positions, but as far as being a linebacker, I love seeing him in that linebacker room because he brings a lot to that room, and I’m glad to have him.”
If any doubt remained as to whether or not Banks would ever return to running back, Pruitt jokingly added that the first UTC player to make contact with Banks after his interception managed to tackle the former tailback. “Most good running backs make the first one miss,” Pruitt added.
Regardless, Banks’ two interceptions give him the team lead for the season, and he has the same amount of career interceptions now as senior safety Nigel Warrior.
Tennessee only forced one turnover in its first two games of the season, so Saturday’s five takeaways, including Banks’ two interceptions, proved to be a major step in the right direction.
The Volunteers will take on the Florida Gators next weekend, and improved play from Banks and the rest of the defensive unit will be crucial if the Vols hope to win in Gainesville for the first time since 2003.