RTI contributor Murphy Carlton is the author of this article
Although the 2018 football season was a disappointment overall, it was a good year for a handful of Vol players. One player who had a solid season was linebacker Daniel Bituli, and he’s now being recognized as one of the top returning linebackers in the SEC for the upcoming 2019 season.
Pro Football Focus’ college division recently put out a graphic touting the top five returning linebackers at stopping the run in the SEC. Tennessee senior linebacker Daniel Bituli came in at third on the list according to PFF’s calculations. Bituli had a run-stop percentage of 9.3 percent last season, placing him in third behind Cale Garrett (9.4 percent) from Missouri and Dejon Harris (11.3 percent) from Arkansas. Bitluli’s 9.3 percent is better than Florida’s David Reese (9.2 percent) and Ole Miss’ Mohamed Sanogo (8.5 percent).
These returning SEC linebackers were the most efficient at shutting down the run last season. pic.twitter.com/UXimQ44YH6
— PFF College (@PFF_College) May 28, 2019
The Vols’ leader on defense had a solid season at linebacker last year, playing in all 12 games while recording 79 tackles, one sack, and one pass deflection. It wasn’t Bituli’s best season at Tennessee, but he still led the team in tackles and played well for most of the season. Bituli is returning to Tennessee for his senior season in 2019, and he’s already off to a great start to his final year at UT.
After the Orange & White game back in April, Bituli was given the Andy Spiva Award, which recognizes the most improved defensive player on Tennessee’s roster during the spring. This is a good sign that Bituli has been putting in a lot of hard work this offseason to continue to build off of his solid last two seasons.
Head coach Jeremy Pruitt certainly thought so.
“Daniel, I think he has done a really good job. I think he started out slow at the first three practices of spring, but then he has really made strides,” Pruitt said of Bituli after the Orange & White Game. “He’s always been a tough guy and played with some good physicalness. He’s worked on his pass rushing. He’s worked on covering guys and shows a lot more instincts. He’s tried to quarterback the defense this spring.
“He’s played really hard all spring, and it shows up. He shows up every single day.”
If the Vols have any success stopping other teams from scoring this season, Daniel Bituli will undoubtedly be one of the main reasons why. The senior linebacker brings leadership to a young linebacker room that is filled with players with high potential but not a lot of experience playing in the SEC.
Players like JJ Peterson, Quavaris Crouch, Henry To’oto’o, and Roman Harrison should benefit immensely from having Bituli as someone to learn from and lean on in times of struggle.
Bituli will also look to help increase his chances of possibly being selected in the 2020 NFL Draft this season. Coming off of a year that saw zero Vols drafted yet again, Bituli stands out as one of a few Vol players that are being projected to be taken in Las Vegas next year.
In 33 career games, the 6-foot-3, 243-pound linebacker has totaled 178 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, a sack, a forced fumble, four passes defended, and an interception he returned for a touchdown against Alabama in 2017.