Our look at the Tennessee roster continues today with the inside linebacker position, which could be a strength for this team as early as this year. This spot features an unquestioned senior leader, along with two of Tennessee’s highest ranked prospects from the 2019 class.
Keep in mind that most of these players have the athletic ability and versatility to play both on the inside or outside within the Tennessee defense. But their main spot figures to be in the teeth of the front seven.
The Senior Leader
The inside linebacker position begins with senior leader Daniel Bituli, who has led Tennessee in tackles for two consecutive seasons. Bituli will be tasked with the most snaps in the teeth of the Volunteer defense as the group as a whole looks to make a jump under new defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley.
Behind Bituli will be a number of different options that can be used in several different situations. Will Ignont is the next veteran option after the departure of Quart’e Sapp and retirement of Darrin Kirkland. Ignont registered 47 tackles last year as a sophomore and should be set to see plenty of action in 2019.
The Youth Movement
After Ignont, you’ve got to talk about the two stud freshmen — Henry To’oto’o and Quavaris Crouch.
Tennessee was able to wrestle To’oto’o away from Alabama and a host of west coast schools on national signing day, giving the Vols a borderline five-star talent to build their defense around. The 6-2, 232 pound linebacker figures to find the field early in his career, both on the inside and outside in certain situations. The former top 50 recruit should be able to bring some much needed speed and athleticism to the front seven.
Quavaris Crouch committed to Tennessee during the early signing period and will make the leap full time to defense in Knoxville. Crouch starred as a running back in high school, but opted to go to Tennessee after Pruitt sold him a longer future as a linebacker. As a junior, Crouch racked up 14 sacks and 48 tackles. Expect to see Crouch as a situational player early on, maybe even getting some reps coming off of the edge.
The wildcard from this group is JJ Peterson, who enters his second season at Tennessee after qualifying academically at the last minute last fall. The former four-star, top 50 prospect played catch-up for the remainder of the season, before seeing limited action late in the year. Can he make an impact this year? Where does he slot into the pecking order with Crouch and To’oto’o now in the mix? We’ll see as camp continues.
Slotting somewhere into this picture is Shanon Reid. Reid was a special teamer and a reserve linebacker in 2018, but he should have a chance to move up the pecking order during fall camp with Sapp and Kirkland out of the picture. Reid’s path to playing time might be tied to how quickly the freshmen catch on to the defensive system. He made just five tackles during the 2018 season.
Solon Page III will provide depth in his third season at Tennessee. After redshirting in 2017, Page appeared in just one game against Missouri in 2018. Page figures to be a reserve linebacker, possibly making an impact on special teams this season.