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Tennessee’s most important players of 2019: No. 7 — Daniel Bituli

Bituli will man the middle for Tennessee this year once again.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 10 Kentucky at Tennessee Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Our most important players of 2019 countdown continues today with linebacker Daniel Bituli, who is entering his senior season for Tennessee. The veteran defender is expected to be the quarterback of the defense, manning the middle of the front seven for the Volunteers once again this season.

If you missed our previous players, here’s what we’ve got so far. Remember, these were voted on by our staff and averaged out to create one final ranking.

No. 10: Darrell Taylor

No. 9: Ty Chandler

No. 8: Marquez Callaway

Bituli is a former four-star recruit, signing with Tennessee in the class of 2016 as the 216th ranked player in the country, according to 247 Sports. He exploded onto the scene in 2017 against Georgia Tech, racking up 23 tackles as the Tennessee defense did just enough to beat the Yellow Jackets on that night in Atlanta.

As a junior, Bituli settled into a consistent starting role for new head coach Jeremy Pruitt at inside linebacker. He registered 79 tackles in 2018 for the Vols, coming off of a 90 tackle effort as a sophomore in 2017.

Bituli was asked to do quite a bit in 2018 without too much competitive depth behind him. However, that’s all changed heading into 2019. As a senior, Bituli will get a chance to usher in four-star class of 2019 freshmen Henry To’oto’o and Quavaris Crouch, as well as redshirt freshman JJ Peterson. With multiple capable bodies behind Bituli, it will be interesting to see how Derrick Ansley utilizes them as a group.

On the field, Bituli is pretty versatile player. Not only does he man the middle, but he’s asked to rush off of the edge from time to time, as well as drop into coverage. Bituli is now up to 253 pounds to go along with his 6-foot-3 frame.

Bituli is one of just 11 players in Tennessee history to lead the Volunteers in tackles in consecutive seasons. He will be looking to do that again this fall, and it’s tough to bet against that happening.

With another solid season in Knoxville, Bituli should find himself on the NFL’s radar as a senior. Now in his second season in Pruitt’s defensive system, we’ll see if he can take another leap forward.