Banks in the Secondary Makes Sense

Although it's purely at a developmental stage with an athlete that's officially suspended from the team, there is a lot about looking at James Banks in the secondary that makes sense.

His raw talent was good enough to move to wide receiver last season and lead Tennessee in catches with 42 and in receiving yards with 62. He was second in touchdowns with six, one behind Chris Hannon. Despite only a few snaps of college game experience as a wideout, Banks was the type of difference maker on offense Tennessee had been looking for.

He should be better this season with a year's experience and a new sense of dedication that comes from the realization the quarterback position will be manned by someone else. Two years into his college career, the former Parade All-American quarterback has to focus on his NFL future which won't be as a signal caller. Banks simply doesn't possess the passing skills to excel in a pro-style offensive system. But he could probably write his own ticket either catching passes or defending against them. Plus, the opportunity to do both could turn him into a Heisman candidate which no UT quarterback has ever won.

No Tennessee fan that has paid even casual attention to Banks the last two seasons can doubt he's an athlete of extraordinary ability. He played quarterback his freshman season because the Vols had a need there and they needed to know what Banks' potential was. He played wide receiver last year because UT needed an impact player and deep threat. The fact senior defensive back Mark Jones was Tennessee's second leading receiver last season demonstrates how desperate the situation really was.

In both cases, Banks performed admirably. He led the Vols to a victory over Mississippi State as a true freshman QB and nearly brought them from behind against Georgia in Athens while filling in for the injured Casey Clausen. He was instrumental in victories over Marshall, Florida and Alabama last season and routinely drew the most attention from opposing defenses.

Banks is a playmaker first and foremost and there is reason to believe he could be a help this year on both sides of the ball. However, Tennessee's greater need this year is in the secondary, as the receiving corps will be fortified by the addition of redshirt freshman Robert Meachem as well as the development of fellow high school all-Americans Bret Smith and Jayson Swain. Then there's fifth-year senior Tony Brown, fourth-year junior C.J. Fayton, senior slot-back Derrick Tinsley, redshirt junior Jomo Fagan and redshirt freshman Bill Grimes. The emergence of the aforementioned Hannon, a redshirt junior, gives UT a proven performer who has the speed to stretch the field. Wide receiver is well fortified at Tennessee, but the secondary is another subject.

The loss of three starters to graduation and another part-time starter Antwan Stewart to injury leaves UT lacking both depth and experience in among frontline and second-team DBs. Corey Campbell filled in well at free safety as a true freshman when Rashad Baker was injured last year and should become a solid starter this season. But there are questions about the men playing behind him and beside him, especially with Jason Allen needed at the corner. Banks would give DB coach Larry Slade another ball hawk at safety who has the speed to protect the deep zones. He could spell Campbell or provide another deep defender in passing situations.

That type of use wouldn't prevent him from continuing to pull reps in the receiver rotation and it gives Tennessee some flexibility and depth in the secondary. If the young receivers come on as many expect, Banks could see more and more time in the secondary and in process eventually prove that's where he belongs.

Banks played defense for the first time as a senior at Ben Davis High School at both corner and safety. He broke up 13 passes, intercepted eight, returning those picks for 388 yards and three touchdowns as a two-way starter for the Indiana Class 5A state champions. That's an amazing average of 48.5 yards per INT which indicates he operates magnificently in the open field. The ability to turn a potential big play into instant defensive points can devastate an opponent. (Reference last season's Tennessee-Georgia contest for validation of that point.)

In fact Banks may have been born to do just that. After all, his father, James Banks Sr., played defensive back at Indiana State University where he was a teammate of former Vol secondary coach Kevin Ramsey, who is now the DB coach for the Arizona Cardinals.

In fact, Ramsey is the one who first suggested to James Sr. that his son might want to take a look at Tennessee. James Jr. made an unofficial visit and was hooked on the Vols.

A move to safety for James Banks may be as much about destiny as it is diversity.


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