Quotes: Defense Focused On Developing Depth, Embracing Continuity As Fall Camp Progresses

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The intensity ramped up Wednesday morning at Haslam Field as Tennessee football put on shoulder pads for the first time this fall. Three days into preseason camp and working within Tim Banks‘ defensive system for the second year, UT’s players and staff are embracing that continuity while focusing on building depth for the upcoming 2022 campaign.
 
“I feel like we’ve gotten better in our second year in the system,” linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary expressed to local media following Wednesday’s practice. “We haven’t added that much. We’ve tweaked a couple of things, but the guys are a lot more comfortable with what we’re doing.

“(The coaching staff) are all looking at each other and can almost complete each other’s sentences. That’s what you want. We are comfortable with each other, and that does add to growth, because you can expand on things—whether that is offensive, defensive, the team aspect of it and what’s good and bad. We can trust each other and know we are going to make the right decisions. I know that’s going to play out well for us once the season starts.”

Entering his sixth year with the program, redshirt senior linebacker Solon Page III spoke to the importance of depth in the linebacker room and the benefits of rotating fresh players in the middle of defense.

“Having that extra depth in the linebacker room is very crucial, especially because we want to be one of the hardest hitting and hardest playing linebacker corps in the country,” Page said. “With that being said, having that depth, having guys that can rotate in and out and not have a drop-off, that’s huge for a defense.”

“With the way we play and score, we have to have several linebackers ready to play,” Jean-Mary added. “Especially with the wear and tear that you get in this conference, the more quality linebackers that you have, the better chance you have of being better on defense.”
 
Three days into the rigorous training regimen of defensive line coach Rodney Garner, Tennessee’s veteran defensive lineman are becoming accustomed to the tough practices and shared plenty of praises for their position coach when meeting with media on Wednesday.
 
“I give (Coach Garner) a lot of the praise for the growth that I’ve taken,” junior defensive lineman Tyler Baron said. “He’s helped me mature a lot, more mentally than anything. Just having a different outlook and being more conscious of everything I’m doing. Attention to detail has been a big thing for me, and just being disciplined. He’s been preaching those to me since day one, and I think this summer and this spring was just the first time I really took his words and put it in action. I just continue to do that and just trust in him.”
 
“The way he coaches, that’s the way I want to be coached,” said redshirt junior lineman Da’Jon Terry. “He brings out the best in you. Every day, he’s going to stay on you. When he stays on you, you know that means he loves you. You just keep going at it every day.”

Linebackers Coach Brian Jean-Mary

On linebacker Juwan Mitchell’s performance this fall…
“The first three days have been really good. Juwan has been a model of consistency these first three days. It’s really the first time probably in almost a year and a half to two years that he’s felt healthy. He’s gotten all of the surgeries behind him and he’s probably as healthy as he’s been in a long time. You’re starting to see the best parts of him. He’s been really good these first three days.”
 
On what having Juwan Mitchell healthy will do for Tennessee this season…
“Like every team in the country, everybody is trying to build depth. If he’s able to come in and be able to contribute at a high level, we’ll feel like that just adds to our numbers. With the way we play and score, we have to have several linebackers ready to play. Especially with the wear and tear that you get in this conference, the more quality linebackers that you have, the better chance you have of being better on defense.”
 
On the amount of competition the linebackers have compared to last offseason…
“I think it’s high. I do. Obviously, Jeremy (Banks), with the snaps that he played and the level he played at at times last year, we have to still push him. He’s one of the guys that we can count on. Aaron Beasley has had a great camp, too, these first three days. When the pads came on today, he showed up a couple of times too, which is great. You can see him growing. Obviously, we spoke about Juwan. Solon Page III has had a really, really good camp. He’s shown that he can give us quality minutes. We’re really excited about some of our young depth. Pakk (Kwauze) Garland has been really good these last three days. Elijah HerringWilliam MohanNick Humphrey and then obviously the young guy Kalib Perry is doing some really good things also.”
 
On how Tennessee’s linebackers can impact the pass defense…
“We’re tied to coverage. In 95 percent of the coverages we have, the linebackers are involved in it. We’ll never point the finger at the secondary or the D-Line as far as pass rush. We have to do a better job. I think our number one thing in pass coverage is getting to spots, being able to periph the quarterback, find receivers in our zone and being able to make plays. I think when you watch the film, we were in position to make a couple of plays on the ball and we didn’t. I tie that in to the pass rush. We’re a very aggressive defense and we blitz considerably. As a linebacker, your pass coverage as a blitzer is to get that quarterback on the ground and get him off his spot to make him uncomfortable. All of those things tie together. We take as much responsibility in that as anything. I feel like we’ve gotten better. In our second year in the system, we haven’t added that much. We’ve tweaked a couple of things. The guys are a lot more comfortable with what we’re doing.”
 
On what linebacker Jeremy Banks needs to do in order to reach his ceiling…
“I’ll say this, until he gets a gold jacket, everybody can get better. I think with his maturity—which I think he’s grown in leaps and bounds since I’ve gotten here—and playing under control, he’s done that in these first three practices. That’s been impressive. Jeremy is not always going to be the most vocal leader, but he does lead by example. He kind of does predict the temperature of the team. I think when he comes out and has the right type of energy and juice, the whole team feeds off of that—obviously the defense more than the offense. If he keeps going in that direction, expect for him to have a big year in every aspect as a stack linebacker, a blitzer and a coverage linebacker because he has that kind of ability.”
 
On if he is comfortable with the amount of snaps Banks played last season and if he would like to rotate linebackers more this year…
“We would always like to rotate because it comes down to freshness. In this league, you’re playing a quality team and most games are going to come down to the fourth quarter. The guys who are the freshest, if it’s an equal matchup, that’s probably the team that’s going to win or give themselves the best opportunity to win. I thought we got wore down near the end of games. We’re going to try to, obviously, keep guys as fresh as possible. We’re not going to rotate just to rotate. We’re going to rotate quality guys who give us a chance to play good defense and win games.”
 
On how far along linebacker Elijah Herring has come…
“I think now, the lights are on for real. We’re preparing for a game. I think he was a little nervous with the magnitude of we’re getting into camp and we’re a month away from playing. Elijah is as mature of a freshman as you’ll find. Sometimes I forget. He looks like he’s 25 years old when you look at him in the face. You forget this was a kid who left high school early and was able to come through spring. I think his comfort level with what we’re doing on defense and just understanding the tempo of how we play on offense and how it’s going to be on Saturdays has helped him. I look to him to be a contributor this year. Obviously, still being a freshman, he still has a lot to prove, but we’ve been very excited about him as a whole staff.”
 
On if having multiple seniors in the linebacker room gives him comfort…
“It does. I think that’s a two-part question. Obviously, when you’re in the moment it gives you comfort, but come January you might not feel as good. You always want to have a certain balance with young and old. Obviously, we’re going to lean on some of the veteran guys who have kind of been in the fire a little bit. They are going to make really good decisions in intense situations in games. Our goal is always, with Coach Heup (Josh Heupel) since we got here, the development piece. We have to make sure our young guys are going to develop and be ready to go, even if it might happen this year. Knock on wood, you never want to account for injuries, but we all know they’re a part of the game. For us, to play the way we want to play with the physicality that we need to play with, we know that guys are going to be nicked up. There are going to have to be young guys ready to play this year also. We hope their number is not called if they’re not ready, but we have to get them ready to play because you never know how the season is going to play out.”
 
On how Kalib Perry has taken the new installs of the defensive scheme…
“Kalib, when we took him, was more of an athlete than linebacker, which is what we wanted. Kalib, athletically is probably in the top-10 percent of the team already. He has that type of athletic ability. We just have to get him, fundamentally, to the point where he can play stack linebacker and work within a college defense. We’ve been thrilled with him. He flashes. Just in these three days, he’s done some jaw-dropping stuff. We just have to get him to be consistent where he can go and work within the framework of our defense. He’s a super smart kid. He asks the right questions and I think his best football is ahead of him, for sure.”
 
On the expectations for linebacker William Mohan this fall…
“I kind of put him in the same category. I think he was hurt for most of the year last year. I’m not going to speak for Coach Ek (Mike Ekeler), but we thought he was dynamite on special teams. He did some great things for us. Now, he’s healthy also and we’re expecting some of those same results on defense. He’s a smaller kid but super explosive. He has all of the athletic traits that you want. It’s just the same thing, he didn’t really get a chance to sit and learn the defense, per se, last year. He was more of a core special teams guy. He’s really focusing on learning what we do, but we’re expecting big things from him also.”
 
On if comradery and growth are strengths of the coaching staff…
“Yes, I would say that. We talked about this with the senior group, especially guys that have been together for a long time. I don’t think there’s any substitute for quality time as a unit, no matter what you’re doing. When you look at the meetings, we went over our pre-practice schedule like we were a first-time staff. That’s how you should do it, but we are all looking at each other and can almost complete each other’s sentences. That’s what you want. We are comfortable with each other, and that does add to growth, because you can expand on things whether that is offensive, defensive, the team aspect of it and what’s good and bad. We can trust each other and know we are going to make the right decisions. I know that’s going to play out well for us once the season starts.”
 
On how positive energy and hard work can coexist…
“I think it always starts with the head coach. It’s the culture he (Josh Heupel) always talked about. Before he ever talks about wins and losses, he talks about mindset and how you’re going to go and attack the day. He’s always the first one the players see when they enter the building. I think that means a lot. He always has a smile on his face, no matter what happened the last day. When you talk about culture and positive energy, you really find out how true that is after a player or unit have a bad day. A position group, unit or team didn’t do as well as we want, so how do you approach the next day? How do you approach the next team event that you are doing? I think coach Josh Heupel does a great job of saying, ‘forget the last play, let’s go win the next play’. The kids, they’ve bought into it. Even when us coaches, some who are old school guys, say, ‘we have to get this right,’ the kids can still do it with a smile on their face. They really do believe that the best is yet to come.”

R-Senior LB Solon Page III

On his focus areas to build on a breakout 2021 season…
“Basically just building off of (everything). Working on my footwork in the box, drops, making sure I hold all the intangible things that future NFL teams want to see on film, you know.”
 
On having added depth at linebacker…
“Well, it’s a long season, hopefully we get the extra game in the season as well. So, having that extra depth in the linebacker room is very crucial, especially because we want to be one of the hardest hitting and hardest playing linebacker corps in the country. With that being said, having that depth, having guys that can rotate in and out and not have a drop-off, that’s huge for a defense.”
 
On how year six feels different to start camp…
“Just the fact that it’s year six, it’s the last go-around. Still got a couple of guys here who I actually came in with in my signing class. Just all of us staying here, sticking it out and seeing the change in the program through the years. It just feels different. I mean, last year it showed up on tape. We won a lot more games than some people had thought we were going to win. Hopefully this coming year we do the same.”

R-Senior DL LaTrell Bumphus

On his health going into camp…
“I’m feeling pretty good. I’ve had a long spring of recovery and I’ve just trusted the process. At times it’s been a little hard, but I’ve been grinding it out and trusting the process. I feel like I’m at a good standpoint right now.”
 
On how this year feels different than previous years…
“It doesn’t feel too much different, but you get more comfortable and know what to expect too. I think it makes it a lot easier, and you come in with a better mindset because you have a better grasp of what you’re going to encounter.”
 
On if the team is ready to turn the corner…
“Yeah, just going off last year, a lot of the games – we were into the game and we were like one or two plays away. So, we just want to look back on that and, you know, move forward. We are not thinking about last year, but you want to correct the mistakes so you don’t make the same mistakes and win the close games where we lost them.”

R-Junior DL Da’Jon Terry

On the differences going into his second season at UT…
“It made a big difference. I dropped some weight and I fully grasp plays now. Like, last year, when I came in, I got the plays, but it was kind of hard because it was quick. But now, I grasp all the plays and things like that.”
 
On if Rodney Garner‘s coaching style was an adjustment for him…
“It was. The way he coaches, that’s the way I want to be coached. He brings out the best in you. Every day, he’s going to stay on you. When he stays on you, you know that means he loves you. You just keep going at it every day. Even though you might feel like, ‘man, he’s getting my butt,’ you know it’s to bring the best out of you.”
 
On the confidence of the team this year compared to last year…
“It’s changed the belief tremendously because everyone knows – we won seven games last year. We shocked a lot of people, but we know that we can be better this year. Everybody is coming together and is being as one.”

Junior DL Tyler Baron

On difference in feel of fall camp…
“I’ll start with the team first, as always. As a team you can see how everybody is buying in. How everybody is going towards more so what Coach Heupel wants and not individual goals or individual aspirations. You can see that we’ve all come together and we’re going toward the collective goal of this team and that’s to win every game.”
 
On the depth being developed…
“Saying I’m pleased would be an understatement. I’m excited about how much depth we have and how many guys we’ll be able to rotate in this year. Keeping everybody fresh. When we come out, I don’t think there will be any drop-off. I think whoever is behind me, Byron (Young) and some of the other guys, I think there won’t be any difference. I think they will be able to continue the style of play that Coach Banks wants, as well, and keep the flow up.”
 
On if his buy-in was different this summer…
“For sure, I think just being around Coach Garner to be honest. I give him a lot of the praise for the growth that I’ve taken. He’s helped me mature a lot, more mentally than anything. Just having a different outlook and being more conscious of everything I’m doing. Attention to detail has been a big thing for me and just being disciplined. He’s been preaching those to me since day one and I think this summer and this spring was just the first time I really took his words and put it in action. I just continue to do that and just trust in him.”

-UT Athletics

Vols DE Tyler Baron / Credit: UT Athletics

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