Alabama football: An impact analysis on Henry To'o To'o's transfer to the Tide
Back in Week 2 of 2019 before Tennessee’s showdown with BYU, former Vols head coach Jeremy Pruitt sat down in a pre-production meeting with the ESPN announcers and gushed over his freshman linebacker.
Pruitt told the broadcasters that Henry To’o To’o was so talented that he’d even be starting for then-No. 1 Alabama, too.
Well, now we get to find out.
This past weekend, To’o To’o, a former Top 50 recruit, 2-year starter with the Vols and the biggest uncommitted fish in the transfer portal, chose the Tide over aggressive pursuits from Ohio State, Washington and Florida.
There were several layers to To’o To’o’s decision, starting with the fact that both he — and just as notably, head coach Nick Saban — are clearly confident that the SEC’s silly intra-conference transfer rule will change.
So with that aside, what is the impact of the transfer? For To’o To’o and Alabama?
To’o To’o is a former prep All-American who starred at California powerhouse De La Salle. As a recruit, he initially spurned Alabama to play for Pruitt, assistant Brian Niedermeyer and defensive analyst Kevin Simon, a former UT linebacker and De La Salle standout.
The 6-2, 230-pound linebacker started 22 games for the Vols, earning freshman All-American honors in 2019. As a sophomore in the truncated 2020 season, To’o To’o led the Vols in tackles (76) and tackles for loss (10.0) and recorded a pick-6 in Tennessee’s close win over South Carolina. He finished tied for No. 1 in the SEC in run stuffs (17), per ESPN stats.
Ask any former UT coach and they’d describe To’o To’o as a gritty and heady linebacker. He can run downhill and quickly diagnose plays. He is a physical playmaker who combines obsessive film study with natural instincts. Pruitt often called To’o To’o a “4X4 ‘backer,” suited with the skill-set to play any of the 4 spots in a Saban scheme.
Dial up Tennessee’s defensive film from the last 2 seasons and watch how many times No. 11 pops on the screen.
This past fall, he was constantly knifing into the backfield during the first half against No. 3 Georgia — a game the Vols led at halftime. He then racked up 13 tackles in the finale against Texas A&M. One of his most memorable moments was in 2019 when To’oto’o dislocated his knee-cap against Kentucky, only to return to the game and stone star tailback Chris Rodriguez for a 1-yard loss at the goal line to help lead the Vols to a dramatic win.
To’o To’o does need plenty of work in pass coverage — he had the lowest PFF coverage grade of any UT linebacker in 2020 — but he comes to Alabama as A+ insurance for an already stout linebacker unit.
For the first time in several seasons, the Tide are suddenly oozing depth at their inside linebacker spots.
Dylan Moses is gone, but All-SEC linebacker Christian Harris is back and To’o To’o will come in and compete with Jaylen Moody, Shane Lee and Deontae Lawson for snaps.
Before the transfer news, Moody looked tabbed to slide into Moses’ spot, especially coming off a strong spring and a noteworthy A-Day performance (7 tackles, 1 TFL and a defensive touchdown). Meanwhile, Lee is pushing for his starting role back after leading the Tide in tackles in 2019.
Perhaps To’oto’o merely becomes a situational player for the Tide. That’s ok. It’s also easy to envision him starting on Day 1. He could even mix-and-match with Moody or Lawson, playing mostly early downs and getting subbed off the field in obvious passing situations.
Ultimately, To’o To’o gives Alabama options. Lots of options.
This is not your typical transfer. There won’t be a steep learning curve or major adjustment period.
To’o To’o knows this scheme. His familiarity with Saban’s defense should make the move a seamless transition. He was playing in a similar scheme even back in high school, and while the verbiage changed some at Tennessee, the concepts and expectations were the same.
The rich got richer over the weekend, and the defending national champs just poached Tennessee’s best defensive player who could pay immediate dividends to help Alabama’s repeat efforts in 2021.