It took longer than expected, but Josh Heupel’s defensive staff has been finalized in Knoxville. The defensive coordinator search had plenty of twists and turns, but Heupel ultimately ended up honing in on Penn State co-defensive coordinator Tim Banks has his guy.
Heupel’s search for a man to run his defense was a unique one, considering his rapid offensive pace. It’s not the easiest gig in the world and will come with some unique challenges. Heupel preached aggression from the beginning in regards to this key hire, and he feels like he’s got that with Banks.
“I believe that our philosophies pair together extremely well,” Heupel said of his defensive coordinator on Monday. “A guy that’s had a coordinator title during the last 14 years of his coaching career. You look at the last five years of what he’s been a part of at Penn State. You just look at their ability to create zero and negative plays. I think they’re top five or top 10 in pretty much every one of those categories over the last five years. It’s going to give us the ability to be multiple in what we do, be aggressive in nature, be a tremendous teacher, and I think will be a perfect fit for what we’re doing here in Knoxville.”
This will be the fifth defensive coordinator job for Banks and the third without a ‘co’ label. He has coached units at Central Michigan, Illinois, Cincinnati and Penn State, all while helping out closely with the defensive backs.
Banks will inherit a roster that has experienced quite a bit of change so far this offseason, including losing top linebackers Henry To’o To’o, Quavaris Crouch, pass rusher Deandre Johnson, as well as defensive backs Key Lawrence and Bryce Thompson, among others.
What exactly is left? We’ll get a better idea in a couple of weeks when spring practice opens, but for now it’s all about evaluation of the guys that are still here.
“I think we are still in the getting to know each other phase,” Banks told reporters on Monday. “So, we watched the tape and obviously they are some talented men out there or else they wouldn’t be at a place like Tennessee, but to what degree and they can do moving forward we got to continue to evaluate it. I feel good, and I feel like we’ll have a chance to look these guys in the eye and have a strong plan to get them in the best position to be successful.”
Jeremy Pruitt’s roster was tailored for a 3-4 base, with versatility across the board at the linebacker position. His defensive line prioritized size, while his edge rushing typically came from outside linebackers. Tim Banks has been tied to a 4-2-5 base before, with some 3-3-5 looks mixed in. A base four-man front would require some roster adjustments, which is something that we’re likely to see during the spring period.
“As far as the 4-3 or 3-4 and all those types of things, once again, what do we have to work with? As we continue to go through spring, we’ll evaluate it and make some decisions moving forward that obviously puts the players in the best light which in turn puts our defense in the best light,” Banks said. “But right now, we’re trying to continue to evaluate the talent level and see what these guys can do and do well.”
Spring practice is set to open on March 23rd, with the Orange and White Game slated for April 24th.