Although he will miss the opener against the Georgia State Panthers to clean up a minor injury, Daniel Bituli is still Tennessee football’s most important defensive player this year. And quite honestly, it’s not even close. He can be a stat machine like Darrell Taylor from the inside while also being a glue guy like Nigel Warrior.
Last year, Bituli had 79 tackles, six and a half tackles for a loss, a sack and a pass deflection. With the retirement of Darrin Kirkland Jr. due to injury, Bituli is the only proven returner this year at inside linebacker, even if Will Ignont has significant experience there. Anyway, as a result, Derrick Ansley is counting on him a lot to carry the unit, even with all the young talent.
One of the unique things about Bituli is he’s the one linebacker Jeremy Pruitt inherited who fits the mold of linebackers Pruitt likes. Bituli can play all four positions, and there’s a chance Ansley will sneak him in on the outside at times to rush the passer. The 6’3″ 252-pound senior is the complete package, especially since he also calls all the plays on defense.
The Vols are smart to keep him out of this game to let him get fully healthy, but it could actually be a concern. There’s no way to overestimate how valuable Bituli is to the defense overall, especially when it comes to containing an offense led by a dual-threat quarterback. UT can sit him out to get healthy, but they’ll desperately need him for SEC play.