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Tennessee has backup if Vols’ defense folds

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Take a look at Tennessee coach Josh Heupel’s coaching style and it’s pretty simple, right? Score a lot of points and throw 11 Volunteers on the field to play defense, sit back and watch the Vols arise victorious?

Well, we all know it it’s not quite that simple nor is that the route Heupel would take even if he had the personnel. Heupel wants to run the football, which he has proven he can do, and wants to field a disruptive defense which makes plays behind the line of scrimmage. Believe it or not, that may already be happening – and it’s helping the Vols’ defense as a whole.

While many may think Tennessee’s defense was a noose waiting to be pulled last season, that actually wasn’t the case. The Vols finished fourth in the SEC in total defense (yards allowed) and second in total defense (allowed per play) in 2023. The Vols also ranked in the top four of points allowed, run defense, sacks and tackles for a loss.


“Absolutely,” Heupel told Jimmy Hyams on WNML at SEC Spring Meetings. “We’ve continued to take steps every single year.”

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That tune, publicly at least, has changed a bit when it looked like the Vols’ defensive coordinator Tim Banks’ defense was struggling to eliminate big plays and even bigger days at the office for opponents offensively.

“Tim Banks has done a phenomenal job on that side of the ball, along with our defensive staff of growing our schemes, our understanding of it and growing the individuals fundamentally and technique within that as well,” Heupel said. “When we first got here we were extremely short on the personnel side of it…Every single year we’ve continued to take steps to the right direction. We’ve retooled our secondary, feel like the personnel that we have back there has a chance to help us take the next step in our pass defense as well. So, I’m really excited about what Coach Banks and our entire defense is doing.”

And if those things don’t work out? After all, Banks could be offered a head coaching job or get frustrated with the Vols’ offensive-first approach as a program. It seems Heupel already has an ace up his sleeve if he needs it. Heupel has a long history with Derek Mason, the former Vanderbilt head coach, well respected defensive mind and analyst for the SEC Network.

“He was a wide receiver coach at Weber State University, which is where I started my college football career,” Heupel said. “He went and ended up switching over to the defensive side of the ball…Got a lot of respect for him. And it’s been a relationship we’ve had for a long time.”

That relationship is one worth keeping close to the heart – or playbook.

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