Our look at the defense continues today as our focus shifts to the linebacker position. Really ever since Henry To’o To’o and Quavaris Crouch left the program, this position has been shaky at best and lacking depth.
However, Jeremy Banks has stepped up to the plate and provided some stability in the middle of Tim Banks’ defense.
It’s been quite the road for Banks, who signed as a running back years ago with Jeremy Pruitt. He ended up changing positions to build some depth at linebacker, and he stuck with it. After overcoming some off the field issues and working his way back onto the roster, Banks is now one of the most important players on the team, manning the Will position.
Now a redshirt senior, Banks is looking to build off of his best season. He led the team with 128 tackles in 2021 and will return to that lead role in 2022. The 6-1, 224 pound physical linebacker will have to continue to keep his head on his shoulders and minimize the mistakes, but Tennessee is in a decent spot here with Banks leading the charge.
Joining Banks once again will be Aaron Beasley, who put together a nice 2021 campaign. His 84 tackles ranked second on the team, as Beasley started 11 games for Tennessee at the Mike position. The 6-1, 224 pounder successfully transitioned from safety early in his career, moving down to fix a numbers issue. He’s now a key piece in the rotation.
Solon Page returns for his super senior season, set to provide Tennessee with some key depth once again. He finally made a big contribution last season as the third linebacker in the rotation, totalling 38 tackles on the year.
And now for the wildcard, Juwan Mitchell is back and ready for another try after a bit of a lost 2021 season. Arriving from Texas, Mitchell was a huge pickup for Josh Heupel and started the first game of the season. He would only appear in two more, and ended up taking a redshirt year. There was a reason there was so much hype surrounding Mitchell when he landed in Knoxville. He led Texas in tackles back in 2019 and could really have a big impact on the 2022 season. I’ll be interested to see where he fits in the pecking order after Beasley’s breakout season.
The fifth and sixth linebacker slots will be filled by Kwauze Garland and William Mohan once again.
Garland received a ton of valuable reps during the 2021 spring period, manning the middle of the defense while several were held out due to injuries. He used that experience to provide depth, while also being a key contributor on special teams. Mohan did the same after coming in from Michigan last offseason. Expect Jackson Hannah to also be in that same mix now, coming in from Nebraska this offseason.
Tennessee didn’t make a huge impact at the linebacker position during the 2022 cycle. In fact, it was probably their weakest position of Josh Heupel’s first class, creating a pretty big need for the 2023 group. What they were able to add was Elijah Herring, a three-star prospect from the mid-state area. He’s probably a couple of years out from contributing, and should be in line for a redshirt season this fall.
Overall, this is a group that you feel decent about in regards to the top four. After that, it gets dicey pretty quickly. Tennessee can’t afford too many injuries here, and that lack of depth is an obvious point of concern going into the fall. Getting guys like Mohan and Hannah up to speed is a must, just in case.