Tennessee linebacker Aaron Willis missed all of spring practice due to suspension after enrolling at UT in January.
The former four-star recruit is off to a strong start to fall camp but has impressed his coaches a week through fall camp.
“He’s been a pleasant surprise,” Tennessee inside linebacker coach Brian Jean-Mary said. “His biggest issue was without playing that COVID year he really set himself behind conditioning wise so he had to get his body back into playing shape. I think he had a great summer and did that and he’s been a pleasant surprise so far in camp.”
Willis isn’t the only linebacker with the Vols that missed spring practice. Jeremy Banks was injured, Juwan Mitchell and William Mohan transferred in and Aaron Beasley was also suspended.
Still, Banks is the only player that has played a high quantity of snaps at Tennessee. While Mitchell led Texas in tackles a season ago and figures to play a major role this fall, Jean-Mary and defensive coordinator Tim Banks are still looking for more bodies.
“Obviously we’re going to have guys that are going to travel and are going to be in the rotation,” Jean-Mary said. “Then you’re going to have guys that are going to travel and be mainly a special teams player so if the group is right you could have anywhere from seven to eight that travel to road games but as far as the rotation you want to be at least three deep. Does that mean you’re going to have six guys ready to play or five guys ready with one of them being a swing guy. If everything goes the way it should you would love to have six guys you can put in at any time.”
The highest rated signee in Tennessee’s 2021 class has a manageable path to playing time this fall.
While the Maryland native is listed as 6-foot-1, 225 pounds, the linebacker seems much smaller and was listed as 5-foot-11 coming out of high school. Still, Willis moves incredibly well for an inside linebacker and has the talent to play plenty of snaps this fall.
He also gives Tennessee a linebacker it doesn’t have. Banks and Mitchell are both big bruisers who thrive playing between the tackles and in the run game.
Willis, however, was known for playing both the run and the pass in high school and has the speed to play sideline-to-sideline at a high level.
Whether Willis can mentally grasp Banks’ defense will be perhaps the most important factor on whether the freshman plays a major role this fall. Willis is off to a strong start though and has the talent to be an important piece to Tennessee’s defense.