In a devastating blow to Tennessee Football, the Vols will be without one of their key players on defense for the foreseeable future. Linebacker Keenan Pili will miss multiple weeks due to an injury, Brent Hubbs of ON3 initially reported.
Josh Heupel mentioned the injury on the SEC teleconference and said it isn’t season-ending but that it is still under evaluation, Adam Sparks of the Knoxville News Sentinel tweeted out. At the very least, he is certainly out this weekend when the Vols face the Austin Peay Governors.
Pili was a transfer from the BYU Cougars and brought in to offset the departure of Jeremy Banks. His arrival allowed Aaron Beasley to move to weakside linebacker, his more natural position, and he obviously isn’t going to cause the team issues for Tennessee Football Banks caused.
As a result, Pili and Beasley this year was to be an upgrade over Banks and Beasley last year, and indeed, Pili received a game ball from Tim Banks for his play in the Vols’ 49-13 season-opening win over the Virginia Cavaliers in Nashville, Tenn., at Nissan Stadium last Saturday. Simply put, Pili is a huge loss.
However, unlike last year, UT has more options at linebacker. With Pili out, it’s an opportunity for one true freshman to live up to the hype. Arion Carter received more coverage than any newcomer this past offseason. The highly-touted recruit in the Vols’ 2023 class saw action Saturday against UVA.
Initially expected to be the third player in a three-man rotation, Carter will have the chance to reach his potential earlier than expected. With Pili out, Carter needs to step up and immediately make a name for himself. Again, he generated a ton of hype in preseason camp, so there’s no reason not to believe in him.
When it comes to depth, Kalib Perry and Elijah Herring can help out in the rotation. However, Carter and Beasley are potential superstars if they’re playing in their right spots. Tim Banks will design the perfect packages for them to make an impact on the game.
Taking all this into account, while Pili is a big loss because of his experience and his leadership, Carter’s talent should allow him to step in and immediately fill that void. Austin Peay is a perfect tune-up game for him, but he needs to play at a Freshman All-American level for Tennessee Football going forward. He can do that.