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Tennessee Football Spring Preview: Linebackers

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This is a big spring for Tennessee’s linebackers. That may be an understatement.

The group has a new position coach with William Inge replacing Brian Jean-Mary, who left for Michigan.

Tennessee has plenty of talent at linebacker but not one player who’s proven himself as a member of the Vols.

Tennessee has championship aspirations — which means UT’s linebackers better get themselves ready. 

Let’s look at Tennessee’s group of linebackers entering spring. 

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Tennessee has a new beginning at linebacker with Inge’s arrival and the departure of Aaron Beasley, who played a lot of snaps (and made a lot of plays) for the Vols over the last few years. 

Keenan Pili deciding to return for a seventh college football season after missing all but one game last year. 

Pili has a ton of experience from his time at BYU and brings leadership to a room that’s still growing.

“We call (Pili) Uncle Grandpa because he is the old veteran,” Inge joked when he met the media on March. 

Elijah Herring gained valuable experience last year due to Pili’s injury.

Herring started the last 11 games at middle linebacker.

Can he make a jump this spring?

Rising sophomores Arion Carter and Jeremiah Telander will receive a lot of the attention at linebacker. 

They played often as freshmen and will try to take on bigger roles this fall.

Carter and Telander might offer the biggest reasons for enthusiasm about Tennessee’s linebackers.

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Carter showed big-time upside as a freshman. 

His season ended early due to injury, but hype built around Carter because of the kind of player he’ll become in the future. 

Inge’s experience developing players should help Carter, a former four-star prospect who chose Tennessee over Alabama in the 2023 class. 

When we discuss the upside of Tennessee’s defense, Carter’s potential will be at the center of it. 

Inge was asked last week what qualities he looks for in a linebacker. 

“Speed, speed, speed, speed, speed, speed. Fast. Quick. Speed. Athletic.”

Carter fits the profile. Let’s see what he can do with it this spring. 


How many linebackers will Tennessee trust?

Pili is obvious.

Carter and Telander feel like safe bets.

Juniors Herring and Kalib Perry will both have a chance to show what kind of progress they’ve made.

Herring and Perry have played a lot of football at this point.

Their experience should help them as they look to take another step under Inge’s leadership.

Second-year linebacker Jalen Smith will be someone to watch.

He arrived a year ago with a ton of quickness and speed (those qualities Inge discussed).

But Smith needed to bulk up to be ready to play in the SEC.

Let’s see if Smith can enter the mix at linebacker, a position group that could still use more trustworthy players.


Tennessee has to love the talent of its linebacker group.

The return of Pili brought some relief to the Vols’ staff, which would have been forced to find help in the transfer portal without him rejoining the group.

The transfer portal might still be worth a look after spring practice.

But the current group has enough talent to have success this year.

They just need to develop.

Linebacker isn’t Tennessee’s deepest position group.

An injury or two would put the Vols in a bind.

But Tennessee has talent, a fair amount of experience, and a proven coach ready to help develop them.

“We have a really good room of guys that are really ready to take the next step and that’s something that just excites me as a coach,” Inge said.

That should excite Tennessee fans, too.

The Vols’ linebackers will play behind a talented and experienced defensive line.

That will give Tennessee’s linebackers plenty of opportunities to make plays.

Let’s see how many they can make.

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