Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel japed that he thought one of the local media members might have to play linebacker during spring practice, Tuesday. The Vols’ first year head coach feels much better about that position group entering his first fall practice in Knoxville.
“Yeah, it’s a completely different room then where we left in the middle or at the end of spring ball,” Heupel said with a laugh Tuesday. “We have a bunch of guys, some that have played at a really high level and are coming back into the fold. Some that we feel like have bright futures. Guys who have shown some bright glimpses of playing at a high level that weren’t able to finish it (spring practice) out.”
Banks missed all of spring practice with an injury but is back ready to go full speed at the start of fall practice.
“It’s a position group that’s much deeper than where we left spring ball,” Heupel said. “We like the talent, like the attitude, toughness of the guys inside of that room. Collectively they’ve had a really good summer. (I’m) looking forward to the competition here as we get going this training camp.”
The three main contributors on the inside last season weren’t the only linebackers Tennessee was without this spring.
J.J. Peterson transferred away from Tennessee and linebackers Aaron Beasley and Aaron Willis were suspended for the vast majority of spring practice.
Beasley is one of a few Tennessee linebackers with any playing experience, recording nine total tackles in two seasons. Willis is a dynamic linebacker who can play sideline-to-sideline.
The biggest change from the spring to fall, however, is the addition of Texas transfer Juwan Mitchell.
“We’re excited about him,” defensive coordinator Tim Banks said of Juwan Mitchell. “Obviously we’ve watched him on tape. He’s a kid that’s see ball, hit ball. A guy that relishes contact but is also able to play in space. We’re excited. From everything I understand he had a really good camp from a conditioning standpoint. Obviously a guy that’s been in the fire. I think he’s eager to see how we do it here and eager to get this thing going tomorrow.”
Mitchell, a senior with two years of eligibility remaining, led Texas with 62 tackles last fall. The 6-foot-1, 226 pound linebacker is a bruiser in the middle who is strong defending the run.
Who all can contribute for Tennessee this fall, and just how effective a unit without many returning players can be remains a major question. But Heupel and the Vols are happy for the influx of talent they’ve added since spring practice.
“I thought it looked good both times but it obviously looks better now,” defensive lineman Matthew Butler said. “We have more depth. We have guys that have played at other places and then decided to be Vols. Competition breeds depth and depth typically breeds very good football. I’m loving what I’m seeing.”