It’s no secret what Tennessee’s plans are in a post-Daniel Bituli world. Stud linebacker Henry To’o To’o will take over that inside linebacker quarterback-of-the-defense role, tasked with getting the defense set and handling pre-snap responsibilities. But what happens at the other inside linebacker position?
As a whole, the position lost plenty of depth last season with Shanon Reid and Will Ignont choosing to transfer. Jeremy Banks was then kicked off the team, making the position razor thin. All of that put plenty on the plates of Henry To’o To’o and Quavaris Crouch, who turned out to be the next men up.
Now with Bituli out of the picture, those two are set to be the main guys in the teeth of the Tennessee defense. Anyone that watched Tennessee in 2019 is pretty confident in handing the keys to the car to To’o To’o, but Crouch remains a bit of a wildcard due to a lack of experience at the spot.
He did a little bit of everything for the Volunteers last season, including spending time at inside linebacker and outside linebacker, along with some action as the short-yardage running back. His eventual home appears to be at inside linebacker, thanks to a lack of length, though we know the Tennessee staff likes to mix things up and will occasionally let Crouch rush off of the edge.
As a freshman, Crouch was mainly a sub-package player, providing some fresh legs in the Tennessee front seven. The flashes of athletic ability were there, even as early as the Orange and White game in the spring of 2019. Jeremy Pruitt and Derrick Ansley played him more on the outside in year one, likely taking some of the mental processing off the table for him and allowing him to just go make plays. But that mental aspect of the game is a key part of helping man the middle, and it’s going to be fascinating to see how Crouch performs in that category. It’s something that you just have to get experience with, as we saw To’o To’o do last season right off the bat. Remember, Crouch was a high school running back and edge rusher, so simply getting more time at inside linebacker is a big key for him here.
We should also note that Crouch dealt with a lingering shoulder issue in 2019. He had that taken care of in the offseason and was set to miss spring practice, which was obviously shelved due to the coronavirus outbreak.
To be fair, the answer doesn’t exactly have to be Crouch here. Tennessee added four-star linebackers Martavius French and Bryson Eason during the 2020 cycle. Fellow freshman Morven Joseph could also spend time at this spot. Veteran linebacker J.J. Peterson also remains an option, though we’ve yet to see anything of substance from him just yet.
Tennessee is extremely young across the board at linebacker, but talent doesn’t seem to be an issue. Crouch has a golden opportunity to lay claim to this inside linebacker starting spot for the coming seasons, though it remains an option that he could settle in on the outside. Fall camp will help sort all of that out as Tennessee figures out what exactly they have with this freshman class.