One of the three most important Tennessee Football players in question with regards to leaving for the NFL Draft, and their most important player on defense, just gave the Vols a critical boost. Defensive lineman Omari Thomas is returning for 2024.
Standing at 6’4″ 320 pounds, Thomas, who was a four-star recruit out of Memphis in UT’s 2020 recruiting class, has played every year on Rocky Top and was a regular contributor for Tim Banks and Josh Heupel, developing under Rodney Garner, since 2021. He announced his decision to return to the Vols on Twitter.
Thomas has been an anchor of the Tennessee Football up front. This past year, he had four and a half tackles for a loss, a sack and 31 total tackles, 16 of which were solo. For his career, he has 13 tackles for a loss, four sacks, eight pass deflections, five forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and 86 tackles, 45 of which were solo.
Although the stats don’t stand out, Thomas has been a notable leader of the Vols’ defense, playing alongside the likes of Matthew Butler, LaTrell Bumphus, Kurott Garland, Bryson Eason and most recently Omarr Norman-Lott, who emerged as another elite tackle this year. Both of them back is a huge deal.
Make no mistake, depth at defensive tackle was a question for UT, so Thomas’ return is huge from a personnel situation as well as a leadership situation. He could potentially have a breakout year with another full offseason developing under the nation’s best defensive line coach.
This move follows Keenan Pili getting a seventh year of eligibility at linebacker. Should Pili return fully healthy next year, that’s a major upgrade for the Vols at linebacker, so with Thomas back, it’s already safe to believe their defense will be better despite the transfers in the secondary.
What’s crucial next for Tennessee Football is on the offensive line. John Campbell Jr. and Gerald Mincey are both back at tackle. If Javontez Spraggins and Cooper Mays choose to come back in the middle, the Vols’ expectations should be through the roof next year with Nico Iamaleava.