Coach and Player Quotes: Vols Set For First Spring Scrimmage, Linebacking Corps Strengthening

Coach and Player Quotes: Vols Set For First Spring Scrimmage, Linebacking Corps Strengthening

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee football will scrimmage for the first time this spring on Saturday in Neyland Stadium as the Volunteers culminate the second week of spring ball.

The scrimmage is closed to the public.

Many new faces who enrolled in January will compete on the grass of Shields-Watkins Field for the first time. That group includes a highly-touted linebacking corps that continues to build athleticism and physicality under linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary.

BYU transfer Keenan Pili, a former captain for the Cougars, will play his final collegiate season with the Vols after registering 62 tackles and five tackles for loss a year ago. Meanwhile, true freshman Arion Carter, the former No. 2 prospect in the state of Tennessee, has garnered praise in his first spring.

Senior linebacker Aaron Beasley is the leader of the group, and sophomores Elijah Herring and Kalib Perry are looking to take the next step this fall in their second seasons with the program. True freshmen Jalen Smith and Jeremiah Telander have also brought talent and athleticism to a unit that is now one of the deepest on the team.

“The standards that we talk about—it’s easier to be a leader when the whole team has a standard and a culture,” Jean-Mary said. “I feel like we are getting to that point where leaders are emerging, but it’s not because they’re older, but rather a standard they’re living by and that the younger guys have to follow.

“In our room, I like the direction we are going with Aaron Beasley and Keenan Pili. You cannot leave Kwauze (Pak) Garland out of it. He has some leadership qualities. I tell those guys all the time that when you’re out on the field, there’s a leadership quality of just being a linebacker that these guys have to grow into for this thing to work.”

Saturday will mark the two-week countdown leading up to the Orange & White Game in Neyland Stadium, which starts at 2:30 p.m. ET on April 15.

Admission is $5 for non-premium seats, and all proceeds will count as a contribution to the My All Campaign. All seats can be secured now at or by calling the UT Athletic Ticket Office at (865) 656-1200. All open sections of the bowl of Neyland Stadium will be general admission seating.

Linebackers Coach Brian-Jean Mary

On what he’s seen out of Keenan Pili …

“He’s not back to 100 (percent). Those high ankle sprains, they can go on for a long time. Those are injuries that take obviously a lot of time to heal from. He’s a tough kid, movement skills are great. Very, very committed to learning what to do and doing it our way. I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Really good athlete, runs really well, straight lines. He’s trying to take more of a leadership role, which I know is harder for guys when they come in from the transfer portal and they are trying to get with the culture of the team that they are in. He’s been really, really good. Look forward to him cutting it loose on Saturday. So far, he’s been everything we’ve expected.”

On what he thinks of Arion Carter after his first few months and the growth he’s made…
“With the high school players that come in, we all understand that they should be finishing their senior year. There is a big leap that they have to make with just even off the field. Learning where to be, mindset going to bed, first time away from home. In December, January, they are trying to work through that through our offseason program. On the field, he’s been dynamic. I think him and Elijah Herring are probably tied for interceptions in our group. Not always in the right spot but has that innate ability to make plays and that’s why he was a high-level recruit. That’s why we feel like he’s trending to be a contributor for us next year.”

On if he’s open to the possibility of Arion Carter playing in the fall…
“You know how it is, especially with guys who come in mid-year, it’s not being a true freshman it’s are you one of the best 22 guys on defense or 40 guys on defense that are going to travel? If you can help us win, take the year added. If you’re mature enough and you can execute at a high level and help us go win the SEC you are going to be able to play. The freshman part doesn’t mean anything to us. There are guys that are juniors, if they can’t play at a certain standard, we should be to the point they shouldn’t be on the field.”

On growth he’s seen from Aaron Beasley
“Aaron (Beasley), we all saw how he finished the season. I always believed he had potential to be an outstanding football player. He’s taken more of a leadership role. He’s one of the elder statesman in the room. We have a younger room this year, and he’s taken that leadership role. The big thing with him is that he’s taken his game to the next level. What we need him to be more of a playmaker, kind of the way he finished the year, we need him to be able to take the next step and he’s accepted that challenge. Like I said, is one of the elder statesman, not just in linebacker room but on defense. We like the trajectory he’s going in right now too as far as a playmaker and a leader.”

On the leap the linebacker room needs to make from last season going into this season…
“There’s always things that you can get better at. Run game wise, I felt like we did a better job of plugging play guys. We were able to be a little bit more efficient versus the run because we tackled better, one, and secondly we were able to play off of the d-line and the secondary where we were able to build up a good run wall. We need that to continue and go to another level, but we have to make more plays in the passing game, didn’t feel like we did a good enough job as blitzers, affecting the pass, and we didn’t do a good enough job of underneath coverage when we were in zone coverage with the secondary. That’s a really big point of emphasis for us to take it to the next level in the linebacker room.”

On if this linebacker room in year there is more like what he envisioned in terms of depth…
“I would think so. We have some more able bodies this year, especially coming into the spring. If you were talking about an ideal room, linebacker wise, you would love to have seven guys in that room touch the field. Whether it be through special teams, or on defense. Seven to eight if you’re where you need to be because you got some young guys that are going to be on special teams and maybe backups. Then, we always play four guys in our room defensively. You should have that group that’s going to be special teams, that’s going to be ready to play, and you should always feel like you have four to five guys that can step in and help you win at a high level. If you can get to that level, you’ll feel like you have a room that’s ready to go compete in this league and I think we’re getting there. Not there yet, but I think we’re getting there.”

On how different Elijah Herring is now compared to when he came in…
“He’s making a big jump. Elijah was a kid in high school that played closer to the line of scrimmage. He was more of an outside linebacker. He had to come in and learn to play at linebacker as far as a stack linebacker, learn the nuances. Always a high energy, high effort guy, going to run through a wall for you. He had to learn how to play the intricacies of being an actual inside linebacker. You’ve seen the growth there as far as reading and reacting. He still has a chance to be a high-level blitzer for us. He was very good at that in high school and that’s carried over. He’s gotten so much better. He’s one of the guys that have gotten so much better with the underneath coverage and has gotten so much better as far as reading keys and plugging holes as far as in the running game. We’re very, very thrilled with the leap that he’s made from this past year to this year.”

On what he has seen from Kalib Perry …
“We were in position where we had to take more athletic kids and maybe not the true stack linebacker. Kalib was a kid that played six or seven positions in high school. He had to come in and learn how to play inside linebacker. Elijah Herring played closer to the line of scrimmage, so he understood the physicality part of it a little better. Kalib played secondary, played on the offense, so the physicality part was something he had to grow into. He’s a tall, athletic kid. He’s still learning how to play linebacker but is getting better. The room in itself is getting better. Obviously, we want to set a standard. He’s not there yet, and I’m not sure anybody is. You can see the growth in him where you feel like he’s going to take a leap this year.”

On freshmen Arion CarterJalen Smith and Jeremiah Telander
“They’ve been great. Arion is an in-state kid. He came in with a lot of hype. I think he’s living up to it. Jalen and Jeremiah were two kids that committed to us early. You can see the flashes of really good play from them. Those are two guys that actually played stack linebacker and played it at a very high level. Now, it’s just getting used to the speed of the game, the physicality of the game and the tempo of the way we practice. Once those kids get settled in, can play, get their feet in the ground and go find the football, you can see the high-level playmaking skills and the ability to play linebacker.”

On how leadership shows up…
“Leadership shows up when you’re not in the room. When the superior or coach is not in the room or around, that’s when your guys that you’re counting on for your leadership. Are they holding their teammates to a certain standard? It’s one thing to do it when we are all around out on the field. When we’re in the film room, who’s the leader? When we are not in Smokey’s or out on the field, that’s where the leadership shows up. We always say that leadership isn’t always just speaking, it’s actions too. You always want your best players to be your leaders. Sometimes, that’s not always the case. In football, there is a certain respect factor and factor that’s going to make you follow people. With Keenan (Pili), he comes in, was a high-level player from BYU. He’s coming here, he’s shown traits of him being a high-level player in this league. He’s gaining their respect in not just the linebacker room, but this team. You can see that starting to form. The leadership takes place when the coaches aren’t around. When Coach Heupel isn’t around, leadership is a culture thing. If everybody is still rowing the boat in the same direction, those leaders are going to emerge, and they’re going to be leaders 24/7, not just out on the field.”

On what players have taken on a leadership role…
“I would say Aaron Beasley. Aaron is a soft-spoken young man. Sometimes, it’s not comfortable being a leader, but it is what’s necessary. It’s like you have five or six brothers. That one brother graduates from high school and leaves the house. The next oldest brother is the next guy that the younger brothers are going to look toward. That’s kind of the situation we have. The standards that we talk about; it’s easier to be a leader when the whole team has a standard and a culture. I feel like we are getting to that point where leaders are emerging, but it’s not because they’re older, but rather a standard they’re living by and that the younger guys have to follow. We are getting to that point. In our room, I like the direction we are going with Aaron Beasley and Keenan Pili. You cannot leave Kwauze (Pak) Garland out of it. He has some leadership qualities. I tell those guys all the time that when you’re out on the field, there’s a leadership quality of just being a linebacker that these guys have to grow into. If the second or third group are up, they’re the ones that are out there. The linebacker unit that’s out there, they have to take the leadership and ownership for this thing to work. There has to be some qualities in that for everybody in the room.”

Sophomore Linebacker Elijah Herring

On what it has been like to have his brother, Caleb Herring, here this spring…
“It feels just like high school. We are back to the regular now, so it is great. It has been a great two months. It has been fantastic. I am enjoying every moment of it and he is as well. The team is too. We talk about it every day like your brother is here man. It is a blessing. It is really a once in a lifetime thing and I am glad that it happened.”

On if he feels like the defense is where they should be so far in spring practice…
“I feel like we have done a bunch of great things. As of right now everybody seems like they are in tune with the playbook. We know what each and every one of us is doing. I feel like we can just grow more and more. We try to be perfect, but you can’t get there so that drives you insane and it drives all of us insane because we want to be perfect. I think that we just keep up what we have and do some great things on defense.”

On who he looks up to in the linebacker room as a leader…
“I would most definitely say Aaron Beasley because he is the oldest guy, a senior. He makes plays, a smart guy, very locked in with everything that he does. I mean everybody looks up to Beasley as a leader for the linebacker group.” 

Sophomore Linebacker Kalib Perry

On how his time on special teams translates to playing defense…
“The speed of the game and the physicality, even on special teams is such an important part of the game. I think it’s looked over. Coach (Mike) Ekeler does such a great job of really emphasizing and teaching us techniques that can transition over. That’s one thing he always talks about with the team. He has the snag drill and other drills that you can use in game-like scenarios. It helps with your field of view and being able to play the ball and your man.”

On if he senses the opportunity he could have on defense this season…
“Coming in, I know it’s hard, but I don’t ever overlook the fact that I’m still trying to get the starting role and trying to be on the field more, however that may be. It was special teams, for instance, last year. There’s definitely more opportunity this year. As Coach BJ (Brian Jean-Mary) says, ‘Always try to go for that starting role, regardless of who’s in here.’ He doesn’t care. Whoever is the hardest worker, knows what they’re doing and is assignment-sound is going to be the one on the field. It’s always about continuing to work hard, keep pushing and there are more opportunities, so you have to grasp it whenever it comes your way.”

On his mindset during the week knowing there are limited opportunities on special teams…
“Coach (Josh) Heupel and Coach (Mike) Ekeler always talk about that it’s an attitude play. You only have a handful of those plays every game. Especially with punt return being one of the longest plays in football, you have to go out there, defeat your man and try to open it up for the returner. We have some of the best returners in the country. It’s just going out there and knowing that you’re giving 110 percent that play. You’re one lackadaisical play could be the difference in a touchdown or a big gain for the offense to gain momentum later on in the game. I would say it’s just attitude play.”

RS Senior Linebacker Keenan Pili

On what it has been like assimilating to a new team…
“It’s been really smooth, actually. I talk to my wife about it all the time. It’s been an easy transition for us. I tell her a lot of the time that the team culture is really good and it’s strong. Coming in, you never know how it is. When you transfer schools, you don’t know how it’s going to be. Tennessee has been really loving. The players have been really great to me and it’s been great to get to know them.”

On what role he sees himself playing on the team this season…
“Whatever they need me to do. A lot of people talk about my age. I’m the old man on the team (24) and it’s kind of a funny joke, but if I can bring any type of leadership or experience in any way, that’s what I hope to do. Other than that, I hope my play just speaks for itself. I can give energy and effort each day for the boys around me.”

On the dynamic of managing his time with being married, playing football and going to school…
“It can be tough at times, but I always feel blessed. I feel like I found a good one because she’s as bought in as me. It can get hard sometimes because you’re away so much and they really want to see you and spend time with you. But, she is as bought in as me.”

-UT Athletics

Vols LB Aaron Beasley / Credit: UT Athletics

Country News


  • Forecast
  • Currents
  • Planner