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Brian Jean-Mary talks numbers struggle at linebacker, emergence of Kwauze Garland

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel Caitie McMekin/News Sentinel via Imagn Content Services, LLC

It’s no secret that Tennessee is in a tough spot at linebacker. Henry To’o To’o and Quavaris Crouch entered the transfer portal after Jeremy Pruitt was fired, and then Aaron Beasley, Aaron Willis and Martavius French were suspended. Jeremy Banks and Roman Harrison have been dealing with injuries, too.

To’o To’o and Crouch have yet to announce their plans for the 2021 season.

To say Tennessee has a numbers issue at that position is an understatement. That has left linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary with a difficult first-year gig in Knoxville. Just getting enough bodies to practice has been a daily challenge for the Tennessee defense.

On Tuesday, Jean-Mary spoke of his challenges this spring.

“I like to commend those guys,” Jean-Mary said, speaking of his linebackers. “Our numbers aren’t very high. The guys who have been out there, a hard-working crew. There’s a lot of buy-in with that group. They want to get out there and get better every day. A lot of guys with not a lot of experience, but they fight their butt off every day in some adverse situations.”

Tennessee has been left with Kwauze Garland, Morven Joseph, Solon Page III and long-snapper Will Albright. It’s forced the development of those guys, as Tim Banks and Josh Heupel await to attack the transfer portal after the spring.

One surprise has been Garland, who is a former walk-on. The 6-1, 220 pound former defensive back has been force-fed reps, and he’s responded nicely to this point. Garland brings a smaller frame to the position, but makes up for that with speed and athleticism.

“He’s a very athletic, very intelligent kid,” Jean-Mary said of Garland. “Tough kid. He plays every snap like it’s his last. I think he’s got a very bright future because he’s still learning the game. He plays it the right way. With the DB background he has, obviously he’s made for the game the way it is today. It’s a space game where people play to the grass and to the field as far as the wide side of the field like most offenses. He’s kind of built for that with his athleticism and speed.”

Obviously getting Jeremy Banks, Martavius French and Aaron Willis back will help the numbers situation this fall, but clearly they’ll have some catching up to do. Perhaps the weakest position on the roster, it seems like everyone would be shocked if Tennessee didn’t add a veteran transfer here in the next few weeks.