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One area of the Tennessee defense that Tim Banks is focused on improving for 2023

The Volunteers will need some new faces to take big steps forward to make this happen.

NCAA Football: Akron at Tennessee Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports

The Tennessee defense was a rollercoaster ride in 2022. From giving up 49 to Alabama, to holding Kentucky to six, to giving up 60 against South Carolina, to shutting out Vanderbilt — they were all over the map.

Let’s be honest, Tim Banks has a tough job. Pairing a defense with Josh Heupel’s offensive pace means your group is going to be on the field quite a bit, so you better have plenty of depth and the ability to create turnovers.

We saw Banks call a very aggressive defense last year. He was coming after you with pressure, for better or for worse. When Tennessee got home, it was a thing of beauty. When they didn’t? It was ugly.

Banks wants to get better in one key area — an area that would allow him to call a little more conservative game. He wants to get home more often with his front four.

“Everywhere I’ve been, we’ve had great success at rushing four, to be quite honest with you,” Banks said last week. “The Eagles obviously – I haven’t seen a lot of NFL football this year – but you definitely have heard (about their great pass-rush). We would love to be able to do that. We think we’ve made some strides, but we also understand there’s a lot of work yet to be done.”

Tennessee will be replacing their best edge rusher this year, as Byron Young heads to the NFL. However, the Volunteers have been stockpiling talent on the edge for a couple of recruiting cycles now. James Pearce and Joshua Josephs are the next guys up, after both offered a few flashes last season.

The Volunteers also brought in four-star prospects Chandavian Bradley and Caleb Herring, along with five-star interior lineman Daevin Hobbs.

“We feel like we’re recruiting at a higher level and we’ve got some young guys that are coming in here that we hope will be able to help us transition to being able to be even more efficient with our four-man packages,” Banks said. “I think we will be, but yeah, to be able to do that and do it at a high level, it just makes everyone else’s job that much easier.”

Tennessee ranked 45th in the country with 31 team sacks last season. Per Football Outsiders, the Tennessee defense finished ranked 33rd in the country, according to their metrics.

Banks is going to have have a couple of these young guys emerge, as they’re all going to get a huge bump up in snaps in 2023. Pearce got home twice as a true freshman, while Josephs came away with one sack. Both played very limited roles, however. That’s set to change, starting just a handful of weeks from now when Tennessee opens spring practice. I’ll be interested to hear how both develop over the next couple of months.