Third spring could be a charm for Vols defensive coordinator Tim Banks

Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee defensive coordinator Tim Banks, shown during an Orange Bowl news conference in late December, is nearing his third spring practice with the Volunteers.
Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee defensive coordinator Tim Banks, shown during an Orange Bowl news conference in late December, is nearing his third spring practice with the Volunteers.

Too much chaos.

Too many injuries.

That's more like it.

Tennessee's third spring football practice of the Josh Heupel era should be the most appealing one yet for defensive coordinator Tim Banks, who was having to play catch-up with Heupel and all the other assistants two years ago and had to work last spring with a secondary ravaged by injury.

"It's exciting," Banks said this week in a news conference. "We just didn't have a bunch of guys in the back end last year, and 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.

"Do we have everybody ready to go? We don't know, but at this point it seems on paper that we'll have our lion's share of guys who will be able to contribute this spring."

Tennessee had one of the biggest defensive meltdowns in program history last Nov. 19, traveling to South Carolina with the chance of continuing its College Football Playoff hopes only to get humiliated 63-38, surrendering 606 yards and 35 first downs. The Volunteers responded, however, by smothering Vanderbilt 56-0 in Nashville and then thumping Clemson 31-14 in the Orange Bowl to complete an 11-2 season.

Edge rusher Byron Young and linebacker Jeremy Banks are among the seven Tennessee players who soon will be heading to Indianapolis for the NFL combine, but the cupboard isn't bare for the defense, which also has three newcomers via the transfer portal. The arrivals have occurred at each level -- defensive lineman Omarr Norman-Lott from Arizona State, linebacker Keenan Pili from Brigham Young University and cornerback Gabe Jeudy-Lally also from BYU.

The opportunity may be greatest for Pili, who tallied 62 tackles last season, was a two-time defensive captain and encounters a position area vacated by Banks and Juwan Mitchell.

"We know he is a really good football player, but his leadership style and the way he carries himself will be a really good resource for some of the younger backers in that room," Tim Banks said. "He'll be someone they can look at to get some answers, just kind of being a pro, so to speak. We're really excited about him."

When asked about Jeudy-Lally, who began his career at Vanderbilt and has 23 college starts, Banks said: "We have some steps we need to make at a lot of positions, and the cornerback position is one of those spots. With his experience, we think he can come in here and hopefully compete for one of these jobs and help push those other guys to help these guys continue to grow. I think it will be a great opportunity for everybody involved."

The Vols are scheduled to start spring practice March 20, and Banks is compiling a lengthy to-do list.

"We've got to be able to affect the quarterback with four," he said. "We've got to able to tighten up on the back end, and it's not just the back end because linebackers are included in that. We have to make sure when we are in some zone principles that guys are where they need to be consistently.

"There were a lot of good things that we did in the pass game, but for us to continue to grow, we have to affect the quarterback a little better, particularly in some of our four-man concepts, and then we have to be able to hold up, whether we are in man or zone."


In the money

The Southeastern Conference announced Thursday that $721.8 million of total revenue was divided among the league's 14 universities for the 2021-22 fiscal year, which ended Aug. 31.

The total includes $698.5 million distributed directly from the conference office and $23.3 million retained by universities that participated in bowl games following the 2021 season to offset travel and other related bowl expenses. The amount distributed from the SEC office, excluding bowl expenses retained by participants, averaged $49.9 million per school.


Rings at stake

Tennessee is certain to have a Super Bowl winner Sunday night with Trey Smith as a Kansas City offensive guard and Derek Barnett as a Philadelphia defensive end. Barnett has been on injured reserve for the Eagles since the season opener against Detroit, when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament.

Smith is attempting to become Tennessee's 40th former player to compete for a winning Super Bowl team. There have been 39 former Vols to combine for 48 rings, including Barnett, who helped guide Philadelphia over New England after the 2017 season.

A former Vols player is guaranteed to attain a Super Bowl ring for the sixth time in the last seven seasons.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com.