KNOXVILLE - At a couple of different points during the open viewing periods of Tennessee's football practice Thursday, the Volunteers were trotting out all newcomers on the second-team defensive line.
Whether the doors are open or closed, one new guy in particular continues to pop up.
Tennessee coach Butch Jones singled out freshman defensive end Derek Barnett for praise following Thursday's workout, echoing the early buzz the 6-foot-3, 267-pounder has generated.
"One individual who has really upped everyone's level of play has been Derek Barnett," Jones said. "Derek Barnett has had a tremendous camp [with] his effort. He made one of the best plays I've seen in a long time two days ago in practice, where he caught and chased Devrin Young down the sideline about 30 yards running to the football. It's been great to see.
"Derek Barnett has elevated the defensive line play."
Young, by the way, is the speedy 5-foot-8, 178-pound tailback and return man.
Barnett and freshman end Dewayne Hendrix appear to be ahead of Tennessee's other new defensive linemen, though early enrollees Owen Williams, a junior college transfer, and Dimarya Mixon, along with freshman Michael Sawyers, have been getting work with Tennessee's second-team defense so far.
A consensus four-star prospect, Barnett starred for Brentwood Academy, winning Tennessee Mr. Football awards his junior and senior years. In 2013, he racked up 60 tackles, 18 for loss and 5.5 sacks for the Eagles.
"I could tell from the summer he had the physical aspect, and he definitely has speed," senior defensive tackle Jordan Williams said. "It's just a lot of times, D-linemen have trouble with the mental aspect of the game. But he's picked it up real well, and he's coming along great."
Jones also singled out freshman defensive back Elliott Berry, linebacker Dillon Bates, cornerback Emmanuel Moseley and tight end Ethan Wolf.
"Elliott Berry, we continue to challenge him," Jones said. "We're asking a lot of him in terms of playing nickel and playing some Will linebacker, moving him around."
Jones continues to be displeased with the play of his quarterbacks and had some direct words for Justin Worley, Josh Dobbs and Nathan Peterman on Thursday.
He said the Vols are "not playing winning football" at the position and called for all three "to step up."
During the open viewing period Thursday, Worley had a deep pass in situational work intercepted by Moseley because the ball was underthrown, and he and Dobbs both had drives go four plays and out.
Peterman led the offense into position to kick a "winning" field goal after a long completion to the red-hot Josh Smith.
"Efficiency is what we're hunting," Jones said, "and we're not efficient right now at that position."
Messing with Medley
Aaron Medley was the kicker who made that 31-yard "winning" kick, and the freshman made all five of his pressure kicks at the end of practice.
His first kick, though, came with the obnoxious noise of a crying baby blaring over the practice field loudspeakers.
"It get pretty annoying, I'm not going to lie," Medley said after practice. "But you've just got to learn to block it out. I feel like I've had a good start. I had a couple of rough patches there, but today was a good confidence booster."
Medley also was the kicker for the first-team kickoff coverage unit, with George Bullock with the second group.
"Take one practice out of the mix, he's been pretty consistent all camp so far," Jones said of Medley. "George Bullock has done some good things, along with Derrick Brodus."
Travel for Darr
Punter Matt Darr put more than 6,000 miles on his Toyota Tacoma pickup truck this summer, driving across the country to train with NFL specialists or work with other college kickers.
While in Mobile, Ala, and Pensacola, Fla., the fifth-year senior worked with Ryan Allen of the New England Patriots and Richie Leone of the Baltimore Ravens, and he trekked to Wisconsin to work at a camp with Thomas Morstead of the New Orleans Saints and other college kickers.
"Getting with other college and NFL kickers and punters in the offseason to train is really where you learn," Darr said. "You start to develop your own techniques and habits. It was very beneficial for me, and I'm carrying that over into camp right now."
Once one of the nation's top-rated punters, Darr hasn't seen his career pan out that way, but his punting predecessor, Michael Palardy, turned an up-and-down career into a fantastic senior season last year.
"The journey's not over," Darr said. "That's kind of what I'm banking on right now, is to have a good season with this team and hopefully win a lot of football games."