Quotes: Defense Leaning on Improved Depth and Versatility with Season Opener Less Than One Week Away

Quotes: Defense Leaning on Improved Depth and Versatility with Season Opener Less Than One Week Away

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Bolstered by six returning starters and an influx of new talent from the transfer portal and high school ranks, Tennessee third-year defensive coordinator Tim Banks is expecting to see another significant jump on the defensive side of the ball this season.

Banks believes that one of the defense’s biggest strengths heading into the season opener is its depth, with not only six returning starters but a healthy group of returners who have seen significant game action during their careers.

“We have a lot of guys that have played some football around here, and we have a good blend of the younger guys, some of the early enrollees that just got here, some of the guys who were freshmen last year who played a small role, we expect those guys to play a larger role this season,” Banks said following Friday’s practice at Haslam Field.

“We feel really good that we should be able to rotate a lot of guys and give a lot of guys opportunities that they’ve earned through camp. It’s exciting to be quite honest with you. It’s exciting to know that you can roll different guys out there and try to keep those guys as fresh as we can.”  

In addition to the increased depth, UT’s defense also has the chance to be more versatile this season in part to the wide array of skill sets the players bring to the table.

“I also think the more guys we have, the more versatile they are and the more you can do with them, put them in some different spots and still really have the ability to play to their strengths,” Banks said. “So, I think the question is do we have more guys that are versatile? I would say absolutely, and I think we will have a chance to showcase their skill sets to hopefully help us continue to move the needle in the right direction.”

An area of emphasis for the Vols entering the year has been generating a more consistent pass rush with their front four. While the growth and emergence of the team’s young edge rushers such as Joshua JosephsJames Pearce Jr. and Caleb Herring will play a big part in that improvement, Banks noted that more production from UT’s interior defensive linemen will also be important when it comes to improving in that area.

“We feel like we will have some guys in the interior that will be able to push the pocket and affect the quarterback that way,” Banks said. “It starts with Big O (Omari Thomas). We think O has improved a ton. He is obviously a big-body guy that has shown some versatility in terms of what we ask him to do.

“Lott (Omarr Norman-Lott) is another guy that obviously just got here in the spring that we are super excited about, as well. We feel like we will have some guys in the interior that will be able to push the pocket and affect the quarterback that way.” 

The Big Orange open the season in exactly one week when they take on Virginia at Nissan Stadium in Nashville on Sept. 2. Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. CT on ABC. The game is being presented by Nissan.

A full transcript from Friday’s press conference can be found below.
 

Defensive Coordinator Tim Banks

On preparing physically and being ready to tackle for the season opener…  
“It’s a fine line that you walk, because the reality of it is that tackling is a skill that has to be developed through tackling. You probably don’t get enough tackling opportunities for the good of the game. You try to protect the guys and keep them healthy. But at the same time, you know, you have to do it. I feel like we have done everything we can to get these guys prepared to tackle. I think whether it was 10 years ago or last year, it’s always the same. You have to get that first tackle under your belt in that first game, and I think the guys will get comfortable and get going. The reality of it is, we talk about playing with relentless effort. We feel like even if a guy is not quite where he needs to be and maybe stumbles through a tackle, if we’re running to the ball with the pursuit that is required, then we should be okay.” 
 
On how he assesses the strengths of the defense going into the season…  
“That’s a great question. I think the depth.  We have a lot of guys that have played some football around here, and we have a good blend of the younger guys, some of the early enrollees that just got here, some of the guys who were freshmen last year who played a small role, we expect those guys to play a larger role this season. I think if would (ask), ‘what is our strength right now going into our first game?’ I would just say our depth. We feel really good that we should be able to rotate a lot of guys and give a lot of guys opportunities that they’ve earned through camp. It’s exciting to be quite honest with you. It’s exciting to know that you can roll different guys out there and try to keep those guys as fresh as we can.”  

On when he felt that excitement about the depth of the team…  
“Honestly, I felt that going into the spring. We knew we had a lot of guys competing. You want to get better. You need guys competing. You don’t want guys getting comfortable. Whether you are talking about the back end or whether you are talking about the linebacker position, we just feel like we have more guys that are able to compete, challenge each other and help each other get better. I know we have the depth; it’s just obviously figuring out what the best combination of guys are, dictating and deciding how many reps to give to each man to keep him fresh. We felt like it was a good situation, and hopefully it will show itself this season.”   

On how the decision is made regarding rotation of players in a game …  
“I think circumstances always play a factor in what is going on. Guys get injuries and whatever, but at the end of the day you go into the game having a rotation and plan, knowing that you expect these guys to come in these series—and depending on how long the series is and how many more series they get—so it’s a fluid situation, but we always go into the game having a plan in terms of how we will rotate guys. ”  

On the depth of Tennessee’s safety position heading into the season …  
“I think it starts with Tank (Jaylen McCollough). He’s obviously played a lot of football for us around here. Wesley Walker played a ton of snaps last year as well for us—at some STAR and some safety. Jourdan Thomas was also a special teams guy who did a tremendous job for us last season that we think will be able to help us. Christian Charles is rotating in from corner to safety to STAR, so we feel like we have some guys. Andre Turrentine, we feel like he’s got a chance to be able to help the team. I think we have really good depth there, obviously we don’t have the guys that have played as many snaps as (Trevon) Flowers played the year before outside of Tank, but we think collectively, we have a good group of guys to work with. We are excited to watch those guys play and perform.” 

On the consistency of Joshua Josephs and James Pearce Jr. …  
“I think those guys have gotten significantly better. Their roles have grown, and the things we are asking them to do has grown. I think their maturity has started to show through, and you expect that. The things that we gave them a pass for as freshman, they won’t get those passes this year. We expect those guys to grow. For any of the guys really, your first and second year, there should be some growth. Both those guys have shown that, and we are excited about their future in this season.” 

On what it means to have depth in defense…  
“I think most people would describe us as being pretty multiple at this point already. But I also think the more guys we have, the more versatile they are and the more you can do with them, put them in some different spots and still really have the ability to play to their strengths. So, I think the question is do we have more guys that are versatile? I would say absolutely, and I think we will have a chance to showcase their skill sets to hopefully help us continue to move the needle in the right direction. Definitely having the bodies helps from a depth perspective and playing more snaps, but we also feel we have some versatile defenders that are able to do multiple things for us.”  

On how quickly he dives into tape on Virginia quarterback Tony Muskett…  
“We are getting to it, and we had a chance to watch him, I believe at Monmouth. [He is a] really good player; he played really well for those guys. Showed some athleticism, really good touch on the deep balls. I can see why those guys went and got him, and I can see why those guys named him the starter. We respect everybody that we face, and he has our attention. We know we are going to have to be at our best to be able to have a good game against him.”  

On freshman DL Daevin Hobbs  
“We are excited about Hobbs, we really are. You talk about guys with versatility, a guy that can play inside, can play outside for us. Yep, he is a freshman, but he is extremely talented. He is light on his feet for a big guy. Is there a learning curve for a freshman? No doubt about it; no different than (Joshua Josephs) and James (Pearce Jr.) from last year. We will obviously work with him and work through some of the growing pains, but we feel like he has an extremely high ceiling, and we are super excited to watch him perform as well this season.”  

On interior defensive lineman that have a chance to affect the quarterback… 
“It starts with Big O (Omari Thomas). We think O has improved a ton. He is obviously a big-body guy that has shown some versatility in terms of what we ask him to do. Lott (Omarr Norman-Lott) is another guy that obviously just got here in the spring that we are super excited about, as well. We feel like we will have some guys in the interior that will be able to push the pocket and affect the quarterback that way.” 

On the state of the LEO position… 
“When you start talking about our edge guys, you have already mentioned the usual suspects from Roman (Harrison) to Josh (Joshua Josephs) to James Pearce Jr., and Caleb Herring, as well. We feel like we have some guys that have a chance to affect the quarterback, but definitely having some guys inside will only help that campaign.” 

On Arion Carter’s development as a linebacker…  
“The kid is a worker, first and foremost. He has a tremendous amount of confidence, he believes in himself, and he believes in what we are teaching. I love this kid; he is going to play a ton for us. The steps and the growth that he has shown coming from spring to our fall camp have been tremendous. I think it is a testimony to just how hard the kid works and how committed he is to being great. We are excited about him; we think he is right where he needs to be as he continues to grow as a freshman. Just like with all the guys, there is a learning curve that is expected, but if I know him like I think I do, he is going to push through that curve, continue to grow and get even better as the season progresses.”  

On how freshmen can prove they are ready to play at this level…  
“I think the consistency part, that’s the biggest thing, being able to handle the highs and lows. When you’re playing at this level, there are going to be some challenging moments over the course of the game, practice. The way they handle it, as typically a freshman, sometimes they get too high and sometimes they get too low, but I think as they continue to grow, they will be more consistent in their approach, number one, with their process, and I think you’ll start to see dividends on the field. I think it’s just being able to manage the game itself, and the process is probably the biggest learning curve that most young people struggle with.”  

On Christian Harrison growth leading into his sophomore year… 
“He’s been one of those guys that’s been competing at that corner position. I think he’s grown as well, and you should. I keep saying the same thing, as a freshman, you’re just trying to figure it out and try to work through your role, whatever that was last year for him. Obviously, those guys are all working hard to create a bigger role, and he’s no different. I thought he made tremendous strides finishing last season as a factor on our special teams. In some of the games he got in, we thought he improved and he showed those same traits during spring. He’s really picked up where he left off in the fall, so he will definitely be a guy that will continue to grow. We’re extremely happy where he is right now.”  

-UT Athletics

Vols defense / Credit: UT Athletics

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