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2019 Fall Camp Position Preview: Linebackers

Photo by Nathanael Rutherford/RTI

We get you ready for the start of Tennessee’s 2019 fall camp by previewing the Vols’ roster position-by-position. Make sure to check out our look at Tennessee’s defensive backs. Next up is our look at Tennessee’s linebacker group.

Seniors: Daniel Bituli, Darrell Taylor (RS)

Juniors: Jordan Allen (RS), Will Ignont, Deandre Johnson, Shanon Reid

Sophomores: Kivon Bennett (RS), Solon Page III (RS)

Freshmen: Quavaris Crouch, Roman Harrison, J.J. Peterson (RS), Henry To’oto’o

Tennessee’s linebacking corps is thin on depth and on overall experience, but the young group is headlined by a pair of seniors who figure to be leaders on UT’s defense this season.

Outside linebacker Darrell Taylor leads the SEC in returning number of sacks heading into the 2019 season, and Daniel Bituli will be starting his third season as the Vols’ full-time starter at inside linebacker. Barring injuries, those two will be the anchors for Tennessee’s linebacker unit.

In the spring, Bituli practiced some at both inside and outside linebacker. Should that continue into fall camp, watch for him to see playing time all over the field this upcoming season.

Aside from those two players, Tennessee has a lot of spots up for grab within the linebacking corps.

Tennessee’s defense may be a base 3-4 system, but they often operate out of a nickel formation or a 4-3. Still, the Vols will need five to six linebackers ready to go at any point in a game, and developing that depth will be the key of fall camp.

Shanon Reid was a breakout performer in the spring, and he’ll need to carry over that momentum into the fall with Tennessee welcoming in a few more young and talented linebackers to the mix. Reid and Will Ignont figure to battle for the second inside linebacker spot alongside Bituli. Ignont has flashed potential in the past and played in all 12 games last season, totaling 47 tackles and two tackles for loss.

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On the outside, Darrell Taylor needs some help rushing the passer to take the pressure of himself. Deandre Johnson, Kivon Bennett, and Jordan Allen all battled for that other outside linebacker spot in the spring, but none of that trio really separated themselves. Bennett is a converted defensive lineman who looked impressive at times in the spring, but consistency was an issue. Johnson played some at OLB in 2018, but he also struggled with consistently doing what he needed. Allen will need a strong push in the fall to work his way into the two-deep at either outside linebacker spot.

Then, there’s the young guys.

Tennessee welcomed in Quavaris Crouch as an early enrollee in the spring, and he showed plenty of potential in his first few months with the Vols. He’s still learning the linebacker position, but he has the raw athleticism and physicality to make an impact immediately. His time in the spring could help him fight for a spot in the two-deep in fall camp. Crouch primarily worked at inside linebacker in the spring, but he practiced some at outside linebacker as well.

Two more freshmen joined the Vols over the summer and will look to provide some more competition this fall. Henry To’oto’o and Roman Harrison will challenge UT’s upperclassmen and will try and work their way into the rotation. To’oto’o will likely start out at inside linebacker but could see time on the outside too, and Harrison figures to start out at outside linebacker.

Oh, and don’t forget about JJ Peterson.

This time last year, Peterson was all anyone could ask about. Is he going to qualify? When is he going to get to campus? How much will he play?

The answer to all those questions ended up being rather disappointing.

Peterson arrived very late to the party last year, finally qualifying and getting to campus after the Vols played their first game of the season. He appeared in four different games last season just to get some game action, and he redshirted thanks to the new NCAA rules.

In the spring, Peterson was banged up and didn’t really get to run through drills like coaches hoped he could. He sat out the Orange & White Game, too. This summer was an important time for him, and fall camp will prove whether or not he did what he needed to get more in shape and learn the defensive playbook. If he didn’t, then he’s risking falling behind to the Vols’ newest additions at linebacker.

There’s a lot of talent for UT at linebacker, but outside of Bituli and Taylor, there’s not much experience. Fall camp will be extremely important for this unit as coaches help players figure out roles and as the players themselves battle each other for spots on the starting line and in the depth chart.

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