‘Best is yet to come’ for Vols linebacker Aaron Beasley

Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee fifth-year senior linebacker Aaron Beasley is coming off an Orange Bowl performance last December in which he racked up 12 tackles and four tackles for loss. Beasley has worn jersey No. 24 for the Volunteers but is now wearing No. 6.
Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee fifth-year senior linebacker Aaron Beasley is coming off an Orange Bowl performance last December in which he racked up 12 tackles and four tackles for loss. Beasley has worn jersey No. 24 for the Volunteers but is now wearing No. 6.

If fifth-year senior linebacker Aaron Beasley picks up right where he left off last season, the Tennessee Volunteers may start compiling more defensive headlines to accompany their seemingly endless offensive accomplishments.

Beasley was a wrecking machine in December's 31-14 thumping of Clemson in the Orange Bowl, racking up 12 tackles and four tackles for loss, including two sacks. His four tackles for loss tied a Tennessee bowl record and capped a sparkling 11-2 year.

"That's the Aaron we expect to see every game, but I also think there were some plays that he left out on the field that he could have made," linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary said Friday in a news conference. "The kid has a unique skill set and a high, high playmaking ability. I tell people all the time that the best is yet to come from that kid."

The Vols held their fourth preseason practice Saturday morning and will have Sunday off. They will resume Monday and are scheduled to scrimmage for the first time Thursday.

Beasley, a 6-foot-1, 225-pound graduate student from Franklin, Georgia, led Tennessee in defensive snaps last season while tallying 76 tackles along with a team-high 13 tackles for loss and three sacks. His effort against Clemson earned him the Orange Bowl defensive MVP honor and a spot on the Associated Press "All-Bowl Team," but Beasley doesn't reflect much on that productive evening.

"You could say that it gives you a momentum boost and something positive to work off of," Beasley said, "but it's a new year and a new time. It really doesn't matter what we did last year."

Beasley has experienced high and low moments since signing with the Vols in 2019 as a three-star athlete prospect and beginning his career under Jeremy Pruitt as a safety. He played mostly special teams in Pruitt's final two seasons, and his first few weeks with Josh Heupel in 2021 were sidetracked due to an indefinite suspension in early April for allegedly abusing a 6-month-old kitten.

The charges of animal cruelty were dropped in late June of that year, and Beasley was reinstated to the team.

"When we got here, we just kind of transitioned him to the linebacker position," defensive coordinator Tim Banks said. "He's really a quiet guy by nature, but I think he has a quiet confidence about him. He was always sneaky athletic and didn't say a bunch, and when we got here, there were obviously some things he needed to get cleaned up.

"He missed a little bit of time, but when he got back and got his legs under him, we knew right away we felt like he could be a guy we could count on. Nothing has been given to him. Everything has been earned, and that just makes it that much sweeter to me."

Beasley catapulted into the starting lineup in the second game of the 2021 season and finished second on the team that year with 84 tackles, which included 7.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. He has played the past two seasons with Jeremy Banks and Juwan Mitchell, but those two have moved on, leaving Beasley as the veteran of his position room.

The Vols did obtain Brigham Young linebacker Keenan Pili through the transfer portal for some needed experience, but it's Beasley who is having to take on more of a leadership role, which has its challenges.

"It's a work in progress," Jean-Mary said. "Aaron is a soft-spoken guy. He's one of those guys who feels he has to earn the respect of everybody before he's going to step out and lead, and we're asking him to come out of his shell a little bit. He does it in his own way, but he's never going to be the loudest guy in the room.

"The younger guys do gravitate to him."

Beasley enters his final year in Knoxville with five career double-digit tackle performances and with a different look, having switched jersey numbers from No. 24 to No. 6. He did so to "spice things up," and Vols fans are eager to see the spice he displayed in Miami carry over into 2023.

"I like our room, and I feel that we're very versatile," Beasley said. "We might be a little young, but I feel like all of us can go out there and play. We're all real smart and instinctive."

Said Banks: "He's really worked his tail off every year to put himself to not only be a consistent linebacker but a high-impact linebacker in this league."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com.

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