Starters (OLB/MIKE/WILL/OLB): Kivon Bennett (R-Jr.), Henry To’o To’o (So.), Quavaris Crouch (So.), Deandre Johnson (Sr.)
Tennessee has plenty of options along the defensive line, but UT’s coaches still have a tall task in front of them. Darrell Taylor is off to the NFL after graduating, leaving a clear need for pass rushers to step up.
Kivon Bennett and Deandre Johnson will get the first crack at starting at outside linebacker following the departure of Taylor. There’s little room for error, however, as multiple talented outside backers are entering the program this offseason. Tyler Baron is a freshman who the staff feels can truly push for a starting position immediately, while Morven Jospeh could also fit that same mold. And don’t forget about sophomore Roman Harrison, who Pruitt remains high on.
Henry To’o To’o is the heart-and-soul of the defense. With Daniel Bituli graduating, the sophomore will slide over to the MIKE linebacker following a freshman campaign in which he started all 13 games and played 727 snaps, which was the second-most by any freshman linebacker in the country according to PFF. Within the hefty snap count, To’o To’o tallied 75 tackles, 5.0 tackles for a loss, six quarterback hurries, and two pass breakups.
To’o To’o could have an All-American type of season, but the depth behind him is a serious concern. Quavaris Crouch figures to be the second starting inside linebacker, but the sophomore played outside backer last season and is coming off of shoulder surgery this offseason. Other than Crouch, redshirt sophomore J.J. Peterson and redshirt junior Solon Page are the next immediate options. Peterson finally living up to the potential, Aaron Beasley taking a big step from year one to year two, or Bryson Eason being ready to play as a true freshman would be a huge development for the defense.
Second-Team: Tyler Baron (Fr.), J.J. Peterson (R-So.), Solon Page III (R-Jr.), Roman Harrison (So.)
Third-Team: Morven Joseph (Fr.), Bryson Eason (Fr.), Aaron Beasley (So.), Martavius French (Fr.)