One position Tennessee is looking to improve heading into the 2022 season to help its defense function more cohesively is linebacker, and the Vols are hoping one particular player’s return from injury can provide a hit. much needed thumbs up. Juwan Mitchell was perhaps Tennessee’s most notable transfer addition of 2021 after leading Texas in tackles the previous season, but he joined the Vols with a shoulder injury that limited him to three games before undergoing season-ending surgery. Now, however, Mitchell appears to be healthy and off to a good start in the first three practices of training camp, according to the linebackers coach. Brian Jean-Marie.
The Vols opened the 2021 season with a four-man rotation at linebacker with Mitchell, Jeremy Banks, Aaron Beasley and Solon Page III. After Mitchell’s injury, it became a pair-and-spare situation with Banks and Beasley, the team’s two main tacklers, starting and Page getting a handful of snaps. Tennessee coaches would like to be able to trust more players to keep the defense fresher against an inflated tally.
Mitchell is capable of going more than deep, though, as he had two productive seasons in Texas before his move to Tennessee, making him a player to watch this month.
“The first three days were really good,” Jean-Mary said after practice Wednesday morning. “Juwan has been a model of consistency for the first three days, and it’s really the first time, probably, in almost a year and a half to two years that he feels healthy. He’s had all the surgeries behind him, and he’s probably as healthy as he’s been in a long time, so you’re starting to see the best parts of him, but he’s been really good those first three days.
The 6-foot-1, 235-pound Mitchell was never quite himself after showing up to Tennessee with a shoulder injury. He still started Tennessee’s season opener against Bowling Green, but didn’t register a tackle. Mitchell totaled seven tackles with a pass breakup against Pittsburgh, but did not play against Tennessee Tech and had a tackle in an appearance in Florida before undergoing the surgery, the time at which the head coach Josh Heupel said Sunday was “the best decision for him, his future and our future”.
It looked for a while that Mitchell might not stay at Tennessee last season, but he was back with the team during their on-site preparation for the Music City Bowl and that’s been so far, if right in front of him being locked up. and focused on what needs to be done.
Mitchell was back on the field in the spring, but wore a non-contact jersey and wasn’t allowed to work 11-on-11, so those first three days of training camp were his first real action – Wednesday was the first Tennessee day. in the shoulder pads.
“Bringing him back was huge,” Page said. “He’s one of the guys, he traded from Texas, he’s got a lot of experience playing, he’s got a lot of shots. So getting him back was huge for the linebacker room. He’s got good He has good covering skills, certainly good in the box, so just getting him back really means a lot.
Mitchell, who is from New Jersey, played one season at Butler Community College in Kansas before spending two seasons in Texas, where he started 13 of 21 games and had 101 tackles, including a team-high 62 to lead the Longhorns in 2020.
“Like all teams in the country, everyone is trying to gain depth,” said Jean-Mary. “If he is able to come in and contribute at a high level, we will feel like that just adds to our numbers. With the way we play and score we need to have multiple linebackers ready to play so depth especially with the wear and tear you get in this conference the more quality linebackers you have the better chance you have of being better in defense.
defensive coordinator Tim Banks said being healthy was Mitchell’s first priority before going to camp. From there, he added, it would be “really up to him (and) the kind of development he did over the summer” to determine if Mitchell would be a reliable contributor. It’s the best-case scenario for a defense that has faced the fourth most defensive snap (1,010 – nearly 78 per game) and will be spending a lot of time on the court due to the way their offense plays.
“We would still like to shoot, because it comes down to coolness,” Jean-Mary said. “In this league we’re up against a quality team, most games will be in the fourth quarter, and the guys who are the freshest – if it’s a tie game – that’s probably the team that will go. win or give ourselves the best chance to win. I thought we were a bit tired towards the end of the games, and we’re going to try to keep the guys as fresh as possible. But we’re not going to shoot just to shoot. We’re going to rotate quality guys who are going to give us a chance to play good defense and win games.