Tennessee linebackers Jeremiah Telander (front) and Arion Carter (back). Photo via Tennessee Athletics on Twitter.
Josh Heupel was recently asked about Tennessee’s linebacker depth heading into the 2023 season compared to the depth the position started with when he first took over as the Vols’ head coach in 2021.
Even Heupel couldn’t help but joke that the team was almost needing the media to step in and suit up if needed during his first year.
On the other side of the joke came a confident and easy-to-see answer. Heupel raved about the Vols’ improved depth at the linebacker position compared to both years that he has been in Knoxville, but specifically to the time when he first took over.
“We were really thin in year one,” Heupel said on Tuesday. “We’ve added length, athleticism, more competition. That showed up on defensive snaps. It showed up on our special teams a year ago as well. BJ (Brian Jean-Mary) has done a great job of recruiting that room and recruiting what we need to that room too.”
The long days of recruiting the linebacker position look to really be paying off for Tennessee. Sophomore linebackers Kalib Perry and Elijah Herring continue to put on size in muscle and looked comfortable flying around the field in their second year on Wednesday.
True freshmen linebackers Arion Carter and Jeremiah Telander don’t even look like freshmen, either. Both newcomers have already been working hard to get to the right size to be able to most effectively play in Tim Banks’ system. Both Carter and Telander are immediately interesting pieces to keep an eye on just simply from their quick transition to the college level.
After a year or two of looking over at the linebackers during practice without much to see, that specific position has suddenly become one of the more interesting ones on the entire field.
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All of that is also without mentioning Tennessee’s experienced and likely two starters with Aaron Beasley and Keenan Pili. Beasley, now rocking the No. 6 rather than No. 24, is back for his fifth season with the Vols after a dynamite finish to the 2022 season. Pili joins the Tennessee roster via the transfer portal and BYU and gives the Vols another experienced and mature figure in the middle of the defense.
Despite not playing together before, Pili and Beasley both have skillsets that can complement each other between the lines.
“They’re both athletic,” Heupel said about Pili and Beasley on Wednesday. “They both have the ability to play in space, and that’s the nature of the game right now. Depending on which way they’re splitting out, those guys having to defend in space. They’re both physical on contact, and I think they have really good eye discipline, which allows them to see something and pull the trigger. Both of those guys are hyper-aggressive, and they’re really intentional in the way that they work. They affect their guys on the defense and in the linebacker room in a really positive way, too.”
Both Pili and Beasley also have loads of snaps between the two of them for two different conferences, only adding to the knowledge that is being poured into the younger players on the Vols’ roster.
All in all, after just one day of practice, it’s easy to tell that all of Tennessee’s hard work recruiting the linebacker position is starting to pay off. The Vols don’t just have depth in bodies but have quality and athletic bodies that look to be progressing quickly through the system.
“BYU transfer Keenan Pili and Aaron Beasley led the way at linebacker with sophomores Elijah Herring and Kalib Perry working with the second team,” RTI’s Ryan Schumpert wrote in his Wednesday practice observations. “Freshman Arion Carter worked with the third team but I can’t imagine that stays the case for long. He looks like a junior linebacker and moves well.”
Tennessee’s linebacker room will certainly be kept under close watch throughout the remainder of fall camp. Stay tuned to Rocky Top Insider throughout August for more observations from Tennessee Football’s fall camp.
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— Tennessee Football (@Vol_Football) August 2, 2023