The move from UT to UT hasn’t exactly been seamless.
With the transfer portal ravaging Tennessee’s football program a year ago, one of the newcomers last summer that instilled some optimism in the Volunteers faithful was former Texas inside linebacker Juwan Mitchell. The Vols had lost their leading tackler of the 2020 season when Henry To’o To’o left for longtime rival Alabama, but Mitchell had led the 2020 Longhorns with 62 tackles before deciding to try the Conference from the South East.
Mitchell had seven tackles and a pass breakup in Game 2 last September against Pittsburgh, but he had shoulder surgery after Game 3 at Florida and has been working since this spring. He does it with a much nicer attitude to linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary.
“You can tell he buys into the team concept here,” Jean-Mary said at a press conference on Tuesday. “It’s always difficult to get a kid out of the gate who comes into a different program and may have different expectations and different rules. It was a struggle at first, but he’s been great and he’s been a great teammate. as far as helping others out.”
Mitchell is wearing a non-contact yellow jersey this spring for the Vols, which passed the halfway mark with Tuesday’s eighth practice.
The 6-foot-1, 235-pound from Newark, New Jersey, started out at Butler (Kansas) Community College before transferring to Texas, where he played 24 games over two seasons with 14 starts. The current fifth-year senior had just eight tackles in his three games last season, and Jean-Mary made it clear several times on Tuesday that there were bumps in transition.
“He made plays for us, but sometimes he wasn’t good enough to be with the whole unit,” Jean-Mary said. “I felt like he was improving before we decided to shut him down. Our expectations for him are high.
“He came here with the desire to play for the Volunteers but also for an opportunity at the highest level.”
Jean-Mary has much higher expectations for his position group overall with the return of Mitchell, Jeremy Banks, Aaron Beasley, Solon Page, William Mohan and Pakk Garland. Only Mitchell and Mohan are unable to be at full strength this spring, according to Jean-Mary, who also has sophomore Aaron Willis, mid-year draftee Elijah Herring and Nebraska transfer Jackson Hannah, who is a favorite.
This time last year, Banks was injured, Beasley and Willis were suspended, and Mitchell and Mohan had yet to arrive.
“Some of you could have lined up at linebacker and we probably would have been more successful,” Jean-Mary said. “We were just running out of numbers, and it was really about surviving the day. The idea of improving and progressing – we really couldn’t do that because we had so many guys missing.
“It’s a night and day difference this year.”
Jean-Mary said Willis was getting more and more comfortable, Hannah had been a pleasant surprise and Herring was “doing a good job for someone who should be getting ready for her prom.”
Stay under control
Banks led the Vols last season with 128 tackles and capped the year with 20 saves in the Music City Bowl loss to Purdue. When asked Tuesday how the 6-foot-1, 224-pound fifth-year veteran from Cordova could take the next step, Jean-Mary didn’t hesitate.
“I think we would all agree that it’s playing under control,” he said. “He’s such an aggressive player, that’s what you want, but the aggression has to be controlled. He’s been better this spring. He’s always going to play the game at 100 miles an hour, but he must do so within the framework of what our expectations are and, more importantly, what are the expectations of the officials.
“He has to play clean football, and he’s been better there. Sometimes we have to take him out, but you’d rather coach him than the ones you have to keep cheering on every day.”
Contact David Paschall at [email protected] or 423-757-6524.