In 2021, Tennessee’s defense quite often found itself in difficult situations. Thanks in part to the Vols’ fast paced offense, the defense was on the field for an average of over 77 plays per game, one of the highest totals in the country.

UT allowed over 29 points per game, but defensive coordinator Tim Banks was still a Broyles Award nominee.

What can we expect from this group in the fall? Here are 7 way-too-early predictions for Tennessee’s defense in 2022.

1. Jeremy Banks earns All-SEC first-team honors

What a season. Banks had 128 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks last year. Banks enters the 2022 season as the Vols’ top defender and one of the best in the conference.

There’s no reason to believe that Banks won’t put up huge stats again this season.

The SEC is blessed with game-changing linebackers. Banks couldn’t crack the All-SEC first team in 2021, but he will this season.

2. Tyler Baron will double sacks total

Tennessee ranked in the top 50 nationally with 34 sacks last season.

Defensive end Tyler Baron had 4 of them, good enough for 4th place on the Vols.

The Knoxville Catholic product played in all 13 games and is ready to make a big jump. He’ll do so with at least 8 sacks in 2022.

3. Byron Young records 20+ tackles for loss

The JUCO transfer tied with Banks for the team lead in tackles for loss and sacks, despite missing 2 games.

He was one of the best in Tennessee’s Class of 2021 and has become one of the most important members of this defense.

Expect more havoc from Young in the opposing backfield.

4. Tyre West becomes a starter

The Tifton, Georgia recruit was one of the Vols’ key gets in the Class of 2022. Listed at 6-3, 280 pounds, he’ll have had over 7 months in a college weight room program by the time the Vols line up against Ball State on Sept. 1.

West will contribute sooner than later and will earn a starting spot before the 2022 season is complete.

5. Defense gives up fewer points in 2022

Tennessee was ranked 90th in points allowed a year ago. Giving up an average of 29.1 points a game was still good enough for 7 wins.

Even a slight improvement in that category might be enough to push the Vols to the 8 or 9-win level in 2022.

As they always do, the Vols will play a difficult schedule. This year, they travel to LSU in addition to hosting Alabama. But even expecting to be on the field as much as they will be, the Vols will reduce the bottom line and allow less than 4 TDs per game.

6. Juwan Mitchell makes a difference

The Texas transfer was supposed to be a major contributor in 2021. He was a 2-year starter for the Longhorns, leading the other UT in tackles in 2020. He was slated to help make up for the transfers of Henry To’o To’o and Quavaris Crouch.

But Mitchell only played in 3 games after suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. He practiced with the Vols in the spring but hasn’t been cleared for contact.

The linebacking corps is significantly improved from where it was last spring. I’ll go into this one with my fingers crossed that Mitchell will be healthy enough to make his mark with that group.

7. Trevon Flowers leads team in takeaways

The starting free safety is around the football a lot. In 2021, he had 82 tackles (3rd on the team) and 2 INTs (tied for 2nd). He also was credited with 5 passes defended.

Flowers won’t get bored this season, and that will lead to more chances for interceptions and possibly fumble recoveries. Those opportunities will allow him to lead the Vols in takeaways.