KNOXVILLE — Tennessee has experienced, proven players in the second level of its defense, but several of the newcomers are already turning heads and appear to be on a trajectory to give the Vols’ linebacker group some extra pop.
Freshmen Henry To’o To’o, Roman Harrison and Quavaris Crouch — all 4-star prospects in high school — landed at Tennessee following high-profile recruiting processes.
To’o To’o, a California native, chose the Vols over Alabama and Washington. Harrison, from Georgia, chose Tennessee over Georgia Tech. Crouch, recruited as an athlete out of Charlotte, North Carolina, chose the Vols over Clemson and Michigan.
All three have hit the ground running during fall camp, giving the Vols reason to believe linebacker could be its deepest position.
Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt praised To’o To’o’s aptitude, noting that “things have come real easy to him.” To’o To’o picks up concepts quickly, and he covers while also fitting run plays.
In short, Pruitt added, To’o To’o is what the Vols are looking for in a linebacker.
“He’s pretty advanced for a young guy at that position,” Pruitt said. “He is capable of being a signal caller. He is a guy who can play all three downs ... He’s a hard-working guy. He’s tough. He’s physical. He’s got to continue to do that and work hard every day.”
While To’o To’o is expected to make a name for himself on the inside, Harrison has been working almost exclusively on the outside.
Harrison endeared himself to Tennessee coaches in the spring. They already knew he was a strong athlete based on seeing him and measuring him during a recruiting visit. When he got into live action after putting on a practice jersey he popped off the page even more.
His strength stands out above all. It is so great that outside linebackers coach Chris Rumph warned fans not to shake Harrison’s hand because he might break it.
“We’re going to push Roman to see how much he can handle,” defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley said earlier this month. “Hopefully he can be that guy opposite of Darrell (Taylor) in some situation packages that can help us rush the quarterback.”
Like Harrison, Crouch is expected to be a pass rusher, though he also has the versatility to play inside. In the spring, he played on third down as a buck linebacker, which is a player that can switch from defensive end to linebacker.
Early in fall camp Pruitt said Crouch is learning more about how to play on first down and second down. The biggest adjustment for Crouch, Pruitt said, has been the difference in size of offensive tackles from high school to college.
“He’s another guy whose motor is always running, and he’s flying around,” Pruitt said. “Lots of times he’s not doing exactly what he’s supposed to be doing, but he’s a playmaker.”