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Tennessee DC Tim Banks Previews Vols’ Defense Entering Spring Practice

Tennessee Football Tim Banks Doneiko Slaughter
Tennessee CB Doneiko Slaughter with DC Tim Banks. Photo by Ric Butler/Rocky Top Insider.

Tennessee defensive coordinator Tim Banks met with the local media on Tuesday after the Vols wrapped up their second practice of the spring.

Banks is entering his fourth season as the Vols’ defensive coordinator and may have his most talented group yet. On Tuesday, Banks discussed his optimism about Tennessee’s defensive line, a number of Volunteer newcomers and much more. Here’s everything he said.

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On where he’s seen the early enrollees grow and how valuable it is to have them for bowl practices

“It feels like we’ve had these guys for a little over a year at this point. I think it’s been great. You can see the guys, their recall is a lot better than obviously when they first got here. They’ve gotten acclimated with their teammates. I think they’re a lot more comfortable. So far, so good. Obviously, we get a chance to play football again, but the offseason was really good for those guys and I think it was because of the bowl prep.”

On what more James Pearce Jr. can do and if his progression in drop-back coverage was made late last season

“I think we have a system that the way it would’ve showcased any of our player’s skillset and he’s no different. We think the sky is the limit for him. Obviously, he’s just a sophomore. I think he’s just scratching the surface of how good he can be. He’s extremely versatile, as you said everybody is alluding to the pick-six that he had, but he’s shown that in practice. He has really good drop skills and ball awareness. We can all get better. I think James would be the first to tell you there’s a lot of room for improvement on his end. The good news is he’s working extremely hard right now to take another step.”

On if he had to win a battle with other coaches to get Boo Carter to play on defense and how his skillset translates to where they want him to play

“We like to score touchdowns, too, so hopefully we can get the ball in his hands as well. Obviously, Coach Heupel was super excited to get him. We knew he was very versatile, there’s a lot of different things that he can do. Right now, he’s concentrating on defense and trying to win some playing time or win a job. He’s been good so far. It’s a lot as a freshman as you know, but I think again getting him early, getting a chance to get acclimated has really helped him. Obviously, as we continue to put more on his plate, we’ll see how he progresses. Right now, I’m super excited about him. We love his skill set, his athleticism, his toughness, but we feel the same way about a lot of the young guys.”

On if the STAR position is more difficult than corner or safety for a freshman

“I don’t know. I think they all have a certain level of toughness to it in terms of what they have to learn and have to be able to take to the field. Playing STAR, playing a field safety, boundary safety, it’s all the same. You have to be able to communicate. You have to be able to take it, digest it and be able to articulate it. We have some guys that are helping him learn that, but we’re never going to try and tie up his mind. We’re going to try to give him the ability to play as fast as he can. We’ll do what we need to do schematically to help him and the rest of those guys.”

On the goal for the defense this spring

“You always try to identify where you can improve. The thing that’s always interesting, you know it’s a new group. So, where you might have had some liabilities and you have to play a certain way to help some guys showcase what they can do to help the defense, we’re kind of learning that this spring with all the newcomers and what their strengths are and how we can make sure we’re playing to their strength. Overall, we obviously want to be a little bit better in a low red zone, that’s one of the things that we identified that we think we can be better. We like our scheme, we just have some things that we obviously need to be able to tweak and help us grow in that way. It’s a long list of things, no different than we talked about James (Peace Jr.). Every year we’re trying to grow and get a little bit better defensively. We’ll know a little bit more about our personnel and then we’ll obviously make adjustments moving forward.”

On how the secondary is doing in terms of leadership with turnover on the roster

“Guys are working through it. We try to be mindful, no different than every year, putting guys in different situations to make them be more vocal. Obviously, we lost a lot of veterans back there. Between Andre (Turrentine), Andre played a little bit, a lot to be honest toward the end of the year. We thought he did some really good things. We’re excited about him. It’ll be a transition, but at the same time I know we’re super excited about it because we feel like we have some really good young talent, we feel like we have some older that’s starting to hit their stride and obviously, we have a couple of transfers. We think the sky is the limit back there.”

On how beneficial it could be for a defensive coordinator to communicate to players on the field against a no-huddle offense

“I think just with anything, time will tell. We do see some opportunities there. Sometimes you may see something, and you want to relay it. You haven’t had that ability until now, so, we are kind of working our way through it, but we do think there can be some advantages taken there. To tell you exactly what they are right this second, it’s hard. This day was just our second day really messing with it, getting used to my voice, not saying too much and not saying too little. You kind of work through it that way. You have to understand, ‘can he take what you are saying’, and being able to make battlefield decisions, who is that guy? I think there are a lot of moving parts, but I do think it is good for football and we are excited about the opportunity.”

On the revamped secondary and how important it is to have experienced guys like Jakobe Thomas coming in

“It’s been great so far. He (Jakobe Thomas) is a guy that has played a lot of football which leads to him having a lot of confidence. He has really fit in with the room. The guys like him. He is a big-bodied kid who runs well. He is extremely smart. So, we are excited he is here. We think he is going to be a great addition to us.”

On William Inge and how he fits in on the defensive staff

“William (Inge) has been great. He brings a wealth of experience coaching at every level. He’s been good. The biggest thing for me is him and the relationship he has with our guys because that’s what it is, building relationships and he hit the ground running. The guys love him. He’s a great teacher and has a great personality. We really hit the jackpot with him, so I am excited he’s here.”

On Keenan Pili and what he will be able to do this spring coming off an injury

“He’s (Keenan Pili) working through it right now, so we obviously want to be smart with him. He’s out there, he’s taking reps. It is important for us to knock the rust off but obviously, we want to get him to Saturdays. So far so good, but we are kind of just working him back in. I wouldn’t say he’s going to take a hundred snaps, but he’s definitely going to take his lion’s share of it. We are excited for him.”

On if it is a big spring for some of the younger guys to get more reps

“Yeah, (Jeremiah) Telander and Jalen (Smith), those guys that have been here, (Kalib) Perry, those guys are going to have a great opportunity in front of them. Again, it’s only been two days, but you can already start to see the maturity and the growth in those guys from year one to year two, and from year two to year three, with some of them. Unfortunately, some of those guys will be limited a little bit during spring. Obviously, those young guys we talked about, you know, I think it’d be a great opportunity for.”

On having a guy like Keenan Pili with experience come back, especially with a new position coach

“I think it’s big. Obviously, again, not being able to play as much football as he (Keenan Pili) wanted to last year was tough. At the same time, he was around. He got a chance to build with his teammates and build chemistry. So, I know all those guys were excited to see him back out on the field. Obviously, bringing in Coach Inge, and those guys getting on the same page in a hurry has been beneficial as well.”

On how nice it is to have a veteran like Omari Thomas on that interior defensive line and what he expects from the group this spring

“I think we should really have the best defensive line in the country. I feel really good about our depth that we’re building. I feel really strongly about their attitude and the determination that those guys have played with. Again, I’m not even talking as much about football, just great guys. They are great human beings and they’ve really worked hard and as coaches we want to see guys develop and reach their full potential. Being able to see these guys go from year one to where they are right now has been huge and we’re super excited about those guys.”

On the cornerback competition and where he feels like the depth is

“Yeah, I think it’s going to be highly competitive. Right now, we’re moving guys around. You obviously send the first group out there the first rep, but then from there, you just are kind of moving guys around and putting them in different positions with different people I should say. So, it’s going be competitive but if I’m being honest that’s at every position. (It’s) no different at linebacker. I just talked about our defensive line and the depth that we have there. It’s a lot of guys who would love to run out there first. As I said since the first day I got here, you get what you deserve. We’re really working hard to build some depth in the secondary. It is probably a little bit more unknown because some of those guys are just getting here, but I love their athleticism. I love the direction Ricky Gibson III has taken right now and just the confidence that he’s playing with, but it’s going be a challenge to figure out who the best four or five defensive backs are, particularly at the corner spot.”

On Christian Harrison and others who are moving around a little bit

“Jourdan Thomas is moving around. We’ve moved Boo Carter around—all those guys honestly. The freshmen, like I told those guys, if they are the best players, they are going to earn some playing time if not start, but they have to earn it. So, we are trying to move guys around and figure out what their best position is and obviously again, as a coach, it’s our job to figure out what their strengths and weaknesses are and put them in the best situations. The only way we can do that is if we move those guys around, so that is what we are doing.”

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