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How Arion Carter and Tennessee's veteran linebackers have stood out in fall camp

IMG_3593by:Grant Ramey08/12/23


McCallan Castles didn’t need much time to think about the question. When Tennessee’s tight end was asked who he thought had stood out in the first week of fall camp, his mind immediately went to freshman linebacker Arion Carter.

“Man, that dude fill his holes,” McCastles, the UC Davis transfer, said during his press conference this week, “and he is gonna lace you in the hole.”

Carter was one of the headliners in Tennessee’s 2023 signing class, a four-star prospect from Smyrna, Tenn., who moved from running back to linebacker during high school and saw his recruitment erupt. 

‘I’ve never seen a dude come in so ready to play’

The 6-foot-1, 227-pound Carter picked his home-state Vols over Alabama and Ohio State, ranked as the No. 125 overall prospect and the No. 11 linebacker in the On3 Industry Ranking.

“I’ve never seen a dude come in so ready to play from a young guy standpoint,” Castles added.

Ask linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary about Carter and he’ll say it’s a day-by-day difference. 

“It depends on the day,” Jean-Mary said last week. “There’s never going to be perfection. Youth always equals mistakes, and we just want to limit the amount.”

Carter’s athletic ability limits the amount of mistakes as is, Jean-Mary added.

“He plays so hard (and so) fast and is a great athlete,” he said, “so he’s able to overcome some of those mistakes that maybe some other people can’t.”

“Obviously,” Jean-Mary added, “we are expecting big things from him the rest of this camp.” 

Veteran Tennessee linebackers standing out during fall camp

Castles made it sound like there should also be big expectations for Aaron Beasley and Keenan Pili, the two veterans in Tennessee’s linebacker room. 

Beasley had 76 tackles, including 13.0 for loss and 3.0 sacks, last season. He starred in Tennessee’s 31-14 win over Clemson in the Orange Bowl, leading the team with 12 tackles while recording four tackles for loss and two sacks. 

Pili transferred from BYU to Tennessee after recording 191 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks in four seasons with the Cougars.

Aaron Beasley and Keenan Pili, that’s like as veteran as you can get at linebacker,” Castles said. “They don’t do anything wrong. They’re always there to make plays, super solid.”

Defensive coordinator Tim Banks said Beasley’s strength at this point in his career is confidence. 

“He’s always been confident,” Banks said last week, “but as the spotlight started to shift toward him a little bit, I thought he got more comfortable in that setting. He’s been great. I think he’s had a tremendous offseason. From a leadership perspective, I think he feels like he has a voice and people will obviously listen when they see the production that he’s put together consistently.”

Banks described Pili as “a great addition” out of the transfer portal and one that brings everything a coach wants at linebacker. 

“He’s big, athletic, physical,” Banks said. “We’re super excited about watching him continue to develop during camp. I think all of our team, particularly on our side of the ball, really respects him because of his work ethic. 

“He’s not really a real vocal person at this point, but I think as he continues to get more comfortable with our team, I think you’ll see him get even more vocal.” 

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