We get you ready for the start of spring practice for Tennessee’s football team with our position preview series. Up next is a look at the Vols’ linebackers.
Seniors: Jeremy Banks, Solon Page (RS)
Juniors: Roman Harrison, Aaron Beasley, Byron Young
Sophomores: Tyler Baron, Morven Joseph, Bryson Eason, Martavius French, Kwauze Garland (RS)
Freshmen: Aaron Willis (early enrollee)
Departures: Henry To’o To’o (transfer portal), Quavaris Crouch (transfer portal), Deandre Johnson (transfer), Kivon Bennett (dismissed)
Replacing To’o To’o and Crouch
There’s still a chance that To’o To’o and Crouch could return and participate in spring practice, but at this point, new inside linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary must move forward as if they’re not going to be available. It goes without being said that those two being lost for good would be a huge loss for the Vols. But it also opens up the door for someone new to lead the group.
The name at the top of the list to do so is senior Jeremy Banks, who has made the most of his second chance that Jeremy Pruitt allowed him to earn. Banks is still raw to the position, having played running back in high school, but the flashes of potential have been evident when he’s been on the field. Not only has he flashed potential as a player, he seems to have taken a step forward as a leader as well. Under the guidance of Mary, Banks could develop into an All-SEC caliber linebacker.
There aren’t many options behind Banks. Junior Aaron Beasley would be next on the list. Beasley has been discussed behind the scenes as a player who did not receive a fair shake at playing time under the last regime, though he deserved a chance given how much Tennessee struggled.
Senior Solon Page will be in the two-deep by default. Page has played in just nine games over four seasons on Rocky Top. Sophomore Martavius French had an outside shot at earning significant playing time, but hurt his chances earlier this month when he was arrested on drug charges that involved a dorm room incident.
Must develop a pass rush
Along with establishing depth and leadership at inside linebacker, Tennessee must begin to develop a pass rush. New Tennessee outside linebackers coach Mike Ekeler is most known for his work on special teams, but his work with his group of pass rushers this spring will be even more important. You simply can’t win in the SEC without a pass rush and right now Tennessee does not have a single established pass rusher.
Now that doesn’t mean that the Vols don’t have any promising prospects on the edge, because they do. They just need to be coached up. Tyler Baron, Roman Harrison, Morven Joseph and recently signed junior college prospect Byron Young all have the potential to develop into promising players in this conference. Bryson Eason is an interesting name to watch. Eason also has the tools to play at this level, but he floated between inside and outside backer last season. We’ll see where the new coaching staff decides to slot Eason.
Any of the young promising pass rushers that I mentioned should be considered the x-factor. Baron, Harrison and Joseph are the main three I have my eye on, particularly Baron and Harrison. We simply haven’t seen much of Joseph. With Harrison, we’ve seen him make plays off the edge against the likes of Alabama who possess first round offensive lineman. Now we just need to see it more consistently.
With Baron, it seems as if he’s taken on a leadership role under the new coaching staff during offseason workouts. Not only on the defensive side of the ball, but on the entire team. Baron possesses the tools to be an established presence off the edge, just like Harrison. Now they need to establish themselves in that respect and be consistent in doing so.
Tennessee has two new linebackers this spring. One off the edge and one at inside backer. Young signed with the Vols under Pruitt during the early singing period and remained in Knoxville despite the coaching change. With nothing established at outside linebacker right now, Young has a golden opportunity this spring to state his case for a significant role.
Four-star signee Aaron Willis also had a golden ticket to early playing time, but quickly squandered that opportunity when he was arrested and suspended indefinitely along with French. Willis was one of Tennessee’s highest-ranked signees when he signed under Pruitt as the No. 137 overall player in the country and the No. 8 insider linebacker. It doesn’t look like he’ll be participating this spring, which is a blow to the Vols considering they desperately needed him to contribute early.