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Jalen Reeves-Maybin Returning to Tennessee for Senior Season

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The Vols get a big boost to their 2016 title hopes as their star linebacker is headed back to Knoxville for one more year.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

There's plenty of conversation left to be had about the 2016 recruiting class, but many have rightfully said Butch Jones' most important work in recruiting right now involves getting Alvin Kamara, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, and Cameron Sutton to return to school for one more year.

Today the first piece of that puzzle fell in Tennessee's favor:

The numbers tell one part of the story for JRM:

  • 2014:  101 tackles, 11 TFLs, 2 sacks
  • 2015:  105 tackles, 14 TFLs, 6 sacks
His progression under Butch Jones and John Jancek has been impressive, from a special teams warrior as a true freshman to a two-year starter at outside linebacker, becoming the veteran leader of that group this year after playing with A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt in 2014.  Reeves-Maybin could now finish his career as Tennessee's leader in combined sacks & TFLs:  if he gets a combined 20 again next year he would tie Leonard Little with 53 and surpass Reggie White's 51.  That's pretty good company.

And within that group, JRM may be the most important of the three underclassmen for the Vols to have retained.  Alvin Kamara would take away an explosive dynamic from Tennessee's offense, but at least there's still Jalen Hurd.  Cam Sutton is clearly Tennessee's best option at corner, but at least the Vols have several other options with plenty of meaningful experience.

Reeves-Maybin and true freshman Darrin Kirkland Jr. played the vast, vast majority of snaps at linebacker this year with the Vols primarily in a nickel package.  Kirkland played the middle linebacker role after taking over from Colton Jumper, finishing with 66 tackles.  JRM's 105 led the team; the next closest outside linebacker was Cortez McDowell with a dozen, and I'd be willing to bet a healthy percentage of those came on special teams.

So now we get to keep the "who's next at linebacker?" conversation off the front burner, and Tennessee gets one of its best players back in uniform for one more year.  In a week filled with moves aimed to win a championship, including the arrival of defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, this was another big piece of the 2016 puzzle.