It’s easy to forget now, but this Tennessee football roster was completely gutted when Josh Heupel and his staff arrived. Making matters worse, Jeremy Pruitt was fired extremely late in the cycle, meaning Heupel had to put together a staff and deal with several holes on the depth chart after seeing around 30 exits via the transfer portal.
After a long search, Tim Banks was brought in as defensive coordinator, and his first spring wasn’t easy. Depth issues were all over the place, particularly at linebacker. The staff was forced to move several pieces around, even repping a long-snapper at the position just to get through practice.
Last year, it was the secondary that was lacking pieces. Banks simply worked through the spring instead of being able to operate at full song to develop his guys.
This year though? It’s shaping up to be different.
“Yeah, it’s exciting,” Banks admitted last week. “We had a bunch of guys, particularly in the back end, that were beat up going through spring last year. We just didn’t have them. They were beat up in the fall for the most part before camp started, so knowing that a lot of those guys will be able to participate is obviously a good thing because you invest. We talk about compound interest a lot, and obviously the more reps they can get, the better it is for them and the program.”
In the secondary, as Banks pointed out, Tennessee has a ton of numbers to sort out — and they badly need a couple of cornerbacks to separate from the pack. Warren Burrell is still recovering from injury, along with Brandon Turnage. We’ll see on those two.
Kamal Hadden, Dee Williams, DeShawn Rucker and Christian Charles are back, while Doneiko Slaughter will look to build on a strong finish to the year. And then you’ve got BYU transfer Gabe Jeudy-Lally — not to mention three more true freshmen out of the class of 2023.
The linebacker numbers have improved as well, bolstered by the addition of Keenan Pili and three more bodies out of the class of 2023. Finally, Banks should be able to rotate properly and run a smooth operation this spring — a huge key for developing players.
“Knowing that those guys should be able to get the lion’s share of the reps going into spring, it can only help the program,” Banks said. “We’re excited about that. Do we have everybody ready to go? You know, we don’t know, but at this point it seems on paper that we’ll have our lion’s share of guys that will be able to contribute this spring.”
In addition, some high level defensive line prospects are going to get their chance to shine. Joshua Josephs and James Pearce will be tasked with replacing Byron Young, while Chandavian Bradley and Caleb Herring enter the picture behind them. Omari Thomas leads Tennessee on the inside, and Rodney Garner will be bringing along big time prospects Tyre West and Daevin Hobbs.
Likely for the first time since he arrived in Knoxville, Banks is probably happy with his numbers situation. The spring will be big to sort some things out in the secondary, but the good news is that Tennessee finally has some options.