Tennessee Linebacker Set to Make Return to the Field in 2022

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    Juwan Mitchell

    Tennessee linebacker Juwan Mitchell against Florida in his final game of the 2021 season. Photo by Tennessee Athletics

    It has been 338 days since Juwan Mitchell last played in a game for the Tennessee football team.

    Mitchell, a linebacker who formerly led the University of Texas in tackles during the 2020 season, transferred to Tennessee prior to the 2021 season. With the Volunteers lacking on linebacker depth then, Mitchell was expected to be one of the main guys in the middle of the Tennessee defense. However, an injury quickly ended Mitchell’s debut season with Tennessee after playing in just three games.

    Now, after undergoing shoulder surgery last season and working his way back up to full health over the offseason, Mitchell is ready for his second round with Tennessee.

    Tennessee released their week one depth chart on Monday afternoon, with redshirt-senior Juwan Mitchell “or” senior Aaron Beasley as the Vols’ starting middle linebacker. While it’s still to be determined whether Mitchell will end up getting the start on Thursday or not, his position on the depth chart certainly shows his growth and indicates that he will have a role, in some way, for this Tennessee defense.

    Mitchell departed from the Texas program as one of their best and most experienced players in 2020. The three-year linebacker led Texas in tackles during his final season with 62, which was good for the 15th most individual tackles in the Big 12 that season. Mitchell was described as a valuable and key part of the Texas defense and looks to have carried many of those traits to Tennessee. However, as most people would, Mitchell is progressing even more now in the second year of this specific defense under coordinator Tim Banks.

    “I feel a ton better about it to be quite honest with you,” Banks said about his linebacker’s room during training camp. “Ju [Juwan Mitchell] has really picked up where he left off before he got dinged up last fall. He has a better grasp of the defense, I should say. He’s been better in terms of his leadership, trying to be more vocal, taking command of the defense so to speak. He’s been good. I think he’s in a good place where he’s ready to go and he’s tuned up.”

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    The 6-foot-1, 235-pounder began the 2021 season as Tennessee’s starting middle linebacker before Aaron Beasley took over that spot in week two. Despite not starting, Mitchell still found work in the second week against Pitt and even picked up six assisted tackles during the game. The former Texas linebacker would then miss the third week to injury, return to a non-starting role in week four, and then was taken out of the rest of the season.

    After undergoing surgery last fall, there has certainly been a process to get Mitchell back on the field in good shape.

    “The first three days have been really good,” Tennessee linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary said about Mitchell during the first week of camp. “Juwan has been a model of consistency these first three days. It’s really the first time probably in almost a year and a half to two years that he’s felt healthy. He’s gotten all of the surgeries behind him and he’s probably as healthy as he’s been in a long time. You’re starting to see the best parts of him. He’s been really good these first three days.”

    Juwan Mitchell can help the Tennessee football team. However, a healthy Juwan Mitchell can really put some juice into the Tennessee defense. From having more depth to just having more talent, Mitchell’s availability is already a massive bonus heading into the 2022 season for Tennessee.

    “Like every team in the country, everybody is trying to build depth,” Jean-Mary said. “If [Mitchell] is able to come in and be able to contribute at a high level, we’ll feel like that just adds to our numbers. With the way we play and score, we have to have several linebackers ready to play. Especially with the wear and tear that you get in this conference, the more quality linebackers that you have, the better chance you have of being better on defense.”

    Tennessee and linebacker Juwan Mitchell will kick off the season this Thursday at 7:00 p.m. ET against Ball State in Neyland Stadium.

    Ric Butler is a Knoxville based sports media personality who has covered University of Tennessee athletics since 2017. Most recently, he served as the lead writer for the website of a local radio station. Ric also helped create and host a daily radio show called “The Blitz." Ric’s passion for sports, smooth vocal, and infectious personality have made him popular with both his peers and Vol Nation. Originally from Dallas, Ric didn’t grow up riding horses to school. But he did dream of the big city lights. When not chasing down the latest Tennessee story, Ric can be found watching the WWE, often attempting their moves in an embarrassing fashion.