The linebacker position is arguably one of the most intriguing positions in 2020. Two of the more productive players in recent history (Daniel Bituli and Darrell Taylor) are leaving the program, but at the same time, the Vols have a major influx of talent and youth coming in to fill the void.
So without further hesitation, let’s dive in to the linebacker edition of our spring preview.
The following guys were seniors in 2019:
There’s no question that losing Bituli is going to hurt. He led the Vols in tackles for three consecutive seasons. That’s only happened one other time in team history.
We saw how the defense struggled without its leader during the first two games of the 2019 season, but that should change with an entire offseason to prepare without Bituli. Still, one has to wonder how quickly the Vols can make up for his absence.
This is another big one. Taylor led the Vols in sacks the last two years and finished second in the SEC with 8.5 sacks in 2019. Fortunately, Jeremy Pruitt is one of the best coaches at scheming up blitzes, but the Vols are going to have to find someone to replace this kid - and they’re going to have to do it quick.
Knoll finishes his career as a five-year member of the football squad who appeared on special teams in five games during the 2019 season.
Others: Jeremy Banks was kicked off the team and Will Ignont and Shanon Reid left the program.
Will Peterson live up to the hype that surrounded him two years ago? That’s the biggest topic of conversation when it comes to the redshirt sophomore.
HENRY TO’O TO’O
This kid has a chance to develop into Pruitt’s best recruit and one of the better Volunteer defenders in recent memory.
He didn’t play much as a freshman, but still appeared in 11 games and was able to record two sacks in the final two games of the year. Outside linebacker is an open spot on the Vols’ roster. Will Harrison make it his starting spot in 2020?
I think it’s safe to say Crouch can be considered the ultimate wildcard. His versatility should come in handy as the coaching staff figures out how to mold this unit.
Others: Deandre Johnson, Jordan Allen, Deontae Beauchamp, Nick Humphrey, Solon Page II, West Shuler, Matt Ballard, Bryan Aiken, Ethan Rinke, Nyles Gaddy, Kivon Bennett
Who’s coming in from the 2020 class?
ILB Bryan Eason
ILB Martavius French
OLB Tamarion McDonald
These three will likely be dubbed the “Whitehaven Trio” throughout their careers on Rocky Top. All there attended Whitehaven High School in Memphis, Tennessee. French and McDonald were basically recruited by Eason.
All three will provide valuable depth and will have a good shot at starting in one of the vacated spots.
OLB Morven Joseph
OLB Tyler Baron
These two were massive gets during the early signing period and each could factor into the equation on the edge right off the bat. Both could play in multiple spots for the Volunteers.
Who To Watch
- It’s easy to see why To’o To’o tops this category. He looks so natural in Pruitt’s defense and only got better as the season progressed. The sky is the limit as continues to feel more comfortable on the field.
- Peterson is one to watch due to the enigma he’s become. I mean, outside of the flip from Alabama, nothing has been guaranteed with this kid. We know he has all the talent in the world and we know how good he could be in this defense. Will he finally make an impact in 2020?
- Harrison should have the leg up on one of the outside spots entering the 2020 season. It will be a very good sign if he can take over the spot with relative ease. You obviously want competition at every spot, but it would be indication of Harrison’s development if he were to take over with authority.
- Any of the freshmen linebackers can qualify here, as well. They are all immensely talented and fit what Pruitt wants at the position.
The group is young, but there is plenty of talent to make it work. As long as everyone does their job on the mental side of things, then this unit should provide a solid foundation in 2019 and beyond.