6. Inside linebackers
If Darrin Kirkland Jr. were not forced into early retirement due to injury issues, we would actually have this unit near the top. It may actually be No. 1. After all, Daniel Bituli is one of Tennessee football’s best overall players.
One of the three members at SEC Media Days, Bituli is a two-year starter at linebacker and the one linebacker who can play all four positions. At 6’3″ 244 pounds, he had 79 tackles, seven tackles for a loss last year, a sack, a pass defended and a fumble recovery. Then he was named the most improved player in the spring.
Simply put, Bituli is the overall star of the Vols’ defense this year. So he alone keeps this unit near the middle of the pack. Without him, it would be at the bottom. With Kirkland, as we said, it would be at the top. This is what happens with Bituli by himself.
However, there is a ton of unproven talent with potential behind Bituli. Shanon Reid, Solon Page III and Will Ignont are all in competition to start at inside linebacker. On top of that, J.J. Peterson should be better now with a full offseason. And the additions of four-stars Quavaris Crouch, who was an early enrollee, and Henry To’oto’o only increase the competition.
The combination of all those players means the Vols have the bodies to find a No. 2 inside linebacker. But none are proven yet. Kevin Sherrer is in his second year coaching this group, so he knows what he has. When Jeremy Pruitt said in the offseason the Vols were on the potential side of things, it applied to this unit more than any other.