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Josh Heupel Adding Former Tennessee Standout to the Coaching Staff

Robert Ayers
VFL Robert Ayers Jr. Photo via Tennessee Athletics.

Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel is adding a former Volunteer standout to the coaching staff.

As announced by the program on Tuesday morning, the Vols are adding former Tennessee defensive lineman Robert Ayers Jr. to the staff.

Ayers Jr. will serve as a defensive graduate assistant according to the announcement.

Robert Ayers Jr. played for Tennessee from 2004 to 2008. Ayers Jr. began his career as an outside linebacker but moved into more of a defensive end role during his sophomore season in 2005. Ayers Jr. continued to climb up the depth chart until his senior season in 2008, which saw him as a full-time starter of Tennessee’s defensive line.

“Ayers Jr. shared the Andy Spiva Award as the Vols’ most improved defender in 2008, while helping UT tie for third in the country in total defense (263.5 ypg) and rank 10th in the nation in scoring defense (16.8 ppg),” Tennessee wrote in the press release on Tuesday.

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The standout end recorded 49 tackles, three sacks, and led the team and the SEC in tackles for losses with 15.5 over the span of the season. Ayers Jr. even found himself an interception in his final year before leaving for the NFL.

Speaking of the NFL, though, Ayers Jr. was one of the most talked about players entering the 2009 NFL Draft as he was eventually taken by the Denver Broncos with the No. 18 pick in the first round.

Ayers Jr. would wind up spending the next five seasons with the Broncos. Ayers Jr.’s final game with Denver saw him record one tackle in a loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII to close the 2013 season. VFL Peyton Manning played in Denver for Ayers Jr.’s final two seasons with the Broncos.

Ayers Jr. spent the next two years in New York with the Giants where he would battle injuries during the 2014 and 2015 seasons. After that, Ayers Jr. would go on to sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the 2016 and 2017 seasons. His final season in the league was in 2018 before announcing his retirement in the summer of 2019.

After his playing days were over, Ayers Jr. went to the coaching side of the game. Ayers Jr. was the defensive coordinator for Knoxville Catholic High School in 2021 and a defensive coordinator at Oak Ridge High School during the 2022 season.

As one of the standout Tennessee players of the mid-2000s and an AFC Champion in 2013, Ayers Jr. is now quickly climbing up the coaching tree as he finds himself back with the Tennessee Volunteers football program.

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