The spoon-feeding days are over for freshman Vols

Tennessee Athletics photo by Andrew Ferguson / Tennessee freshman linebacker Arion Carter goes through Tuesday's second spring practice in Knoxville.
Tennessee Athletics photo by Andrew Ferguson / Tennessee freshman linebacker Arion Carter goes through Tuesday's second spring practice in Knoxville.

They have put away the spoons in Knoxville.

Two years ago, when Josh Heupel went through his first spring as Tennessee's head football coach and had Tim Banks as his defensive coordinator, the Volunteers were having to play catch up with the rest of the Southeastern Conference and had several days in which they had to slow things down from a learning process. With significantly more experience now on the roster, that is no longer the case, not even for the 11 midyear enrollees on the defensive side.

"The way we're built right now going into year three, these guys don't have the luxury of being spoon fed," Banks said Tuesday in a news conference. "They're learning at the same pace as the veterans are learning. In some ways, that can be very tough on freshmen, but in the long term, it's going to give these guys a chance to contribute this year.

"We're not slowing down at all. We're throwing a lot at them, and the more they can retain, the more we'll throw at them. They seem to have a pretty good grasp of what we're trying to accomplish so far."

Tennessee held its second spring workout Tuesday and will practice again Thursday.

Arriving as a defensive player for the Vols instantly means going up against the most frenetic offense in college football, with last season's team leading the nation in points (46.1) and yards (525.5) per game. Those who are being challenged right now at least got a sampling in the December practices leading up to the Orange Bowl win over Clemson.

"It's been tough mentally," safety John Slaughter said. "Off the field, you're dealing with class, but you're also having to get that film work in. It's a process you've got to get through. The speed of the offense is the top thing, but I would say I'm adjusting pretty well.

"The bowl practices prepared me well, but I'm still getting used to the speed."

Linebacker Jeremiah Telander added that there is a risk and reward element to these trying days.

"The coaches tell us all the time that it all happens really fast," Telander said, "but that at the end of the day we're still just playing football."

Also new to the Tennessee defense are a pair of transfer portal additions from Brigham Young, linebacker Keenen Pili and cornerback Gabe Jeudy-Lally. Pili was a defensive captain for the Cougars the past two seasons and tallied 62 tackles last year.

Jeudy-Lally was a 10-game starter a season ago and amassed 46 tackles and seven pass breakups.

"Both of those guys have been awesome, and they're obviously experienced guys," Banks said. "Gabe, from a back-end perspective, is very calm and has a great demeanor about him. So far he's been everything we want him to be.

"As for KP, I love that kid. He's great to be around, and when you get him on the field, you understand why he's played so many games. We're excited about both guys."

Banks likes his slew of newcomers, both from high school and the transfer portal, but he insists that playing time has not been guaranteed for any of them.

"I tell all the guys in the recruiting process, 'We don't decide who starts. You do,'" Banks said. "It's based on their body of work and consistency of which they do it. You're going to have some good days and some bad days, but how many days can you string together that are positive?

"Everything is based on consistency. We always say that you get what you earn."

Playing the Pack

The Charlotte Sports Foundation announced Tuesday that Tennessee and North Carolina State will play in the Duke's Mayo Classic at Bank of America Stadium on Sept. 7, 2024.

Tennessee and N.C. State last met in the 2012 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic, with the Vols winning 35-21. The first two encounters between the Vols and Wolfpack took place before World War II, with the teams splitting matchups in Raleigh in 1911 and 1939.

The Vols are opening this season against Virginia in Nashville and are scheduled to open the 2025 season against Syracuse in Atlanta.

Contact David Paschall at

Upcoming Events