5. No. 2 inside linebacker
The clear starting inside linebacker is clearly Daniel Bituli. A four-star recruit in 2016, he emerged onto the scene and live up to his name in 2017. On top of that, Jonathan Kongbo and Darrell Taylor are the clear favorites to start on the outside, even if Jordan Allen is going to be in the rotation.
But the other starting inside linebacker spot is a huge question. Quart’e Sapp appeared to do enough last year to earn that job, but the most proven guy on the list is Darrin Kirkland Jr. And the position battle this fall camp will come down to those two guys.
Working in Sapp’s favor is the fact that he was solid last year and that Kirkland is not only returning to health after a season-ending injury but hasn’t actually been fully healthy since 2015. Add in Kirkland’s almost-decision to transfer this offseason, and there is clearly some drama.
However, Kirkland in 2015 was much better than Sapp last year. And it’s not like Sapp hasn’t had his own injury issues. Before last year, he had suffered back to back season-ending injuries. All of this makes the battle up in the air.
If Kirkland can get back to his old self, the job is likely his. Tennessee football could use his abilities in coverage as an inside linebacker and his intelligence. He picks up schemes incredibly fast, a crucial factor in the transition to the 3-4.
Sapp, though, is a proven guy and a great complement to Bituli. So he could definitely win the position. Simply put, though, we know what he’s going to be. With Kirkland, we just wonder about his health. So the race this preseason likely comes down to Kirkland. If he wins the job, then there are expectations to see the old him. If not, then he is still returning to form.