Linebackers shine early for Vols

Published 4:38 pm Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...


Week one of preseason camp continued to roll along on Friday morning as Tennessee had its first practice of the fall in shoulder pads after two days in just helmets.

The Vols’ linebackers were at the top of the list of position groups that were most excited for the first day in pads. With veterans Aaron Beasley and Keenan Pili, along with a group of talented young returners and freshmen, UT’s linebacker room has as much depth and potential as any on this year’s team.

Email newsletter signup

Linebacker’s coach Brian Jean-Mary met with the media following Friday’s practice at Haslam Field to talk about his group’s growth from last season.

“Every coach, I think if you asked them what their number one goal is would say quality depth,” Jean-Mary said when asked about what feels different about this year’s group. “When you don’t even have the bodies to go out there and compete, it’s hard.

“I say it all the time that the best coach in the world is competition. You’re going to get the most out of guys if they know that guy behind them is nipping at their heels and is able to play at a high level. With the depth that we’re building, we are going to be able to play multiple guys. We feel like we are going to get them to play at a high level.”

Beasley enters this season as the unit’s leader after pacing the team with 76 tackles and a career-high 13 tackles for loss in 2022. The Georgia native will look to pick up where he left off after an incredible performance in the Vols’ Orange Bowl victory over No. 7 Clemson, when he led all players with 12 tackles, four TFLs and a pair of sacks.

The next step in his progression is taking on more of a leadership role, one that Jean-Mary said is coming along despite it not being the most natural trait for the soft-spoken Beasley.

“Aaron is a soft-spoken guy,” Jean-Mary said. “He’s one of those guys that always feels like he has to earn the respect from everybody before he’s going to step out and lead. We are asking him to come out of his shell a little bit. He’s done that in his own way.

“He’s never going to be the loudest guy in the room or be very boisterous, but you can see that especially the younger guys gravitate to him and really take heed to what he’s saying when he speaks.”

After losing four seniors from last year’s linebacker group, finding another veteran player was high on the team’s priority list in the offseason, and the addition of Pili from BYU has been the perfect fit.

“It’s been valuable,” Jean-Mary said of Pili’s presence and experience. “We really only had one veteran guy coming back. We brought in a guy with a wealth of experience in Keenan Pili who has played at a high level, and a guy who is a team player … He’s been a perfect fit in the room, for the defense and for the whole team.”

The duo of Beasley and Pili will be leaned on heavily in 2023, not only for their production on the field, but also for their mentorship to the younger players in the room like sophomores Elijah Herring and Kalib Perry, as well as talented freshmen Arion Carter, Jalen Smith and Jeremiah Telander.

“He’s been in the game for a while and he’s been doing his thing,” Perry said when talking about Beasley’s maturation. “Even Keenan Pili has had a lot of years at BYU and he adds a new versatility. He’s more of a bigger linebacker and adds a big leadership role behind him. Him and Beasley keep pushing us.”