'More confident' Derek Barnett targets bigger season as Vols sophomore

'More confident' Derek Barnett targets bigger season as Vols sophomore

August 5th, 2015 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

Tennessee defensive back Cameron Sutton, left, and defensive end Derek Barnett are proven standouts now for the Vols, and both are expected to be even better leaders this season.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE -- Derek Barnett could remember just one thing from his first football practice at Tennessee last August.

At that point, nobody, save for maybe Barnett, had any idea about the freshman season he was going to have for the Volunteers.

"I just remember being last on the depth chart," the defensive end recalled Tuesday night after Tennessee opened preaseason practice. "I was frustrated. As a freshman, everybody goes through it."

Not every freshman makes the kind of special impact Barnett did in 2014, though.

The Nashville product set freshman program records for sacks (10) and tackles for loss (20.5). All 10 sacks and 18 of those tackles for loss came against Southeastern Conference opposition. The lost-yardage stops were the most by a Tennessee player since John Henderson had 21 in his All-America season in 2001.

What will Barnett do as an encore?

"He don't even like the attention," fellow defensive end Curt Maggitt said. "He just wants to play ball. He wants to go fast, and I'm down for that."

Barnett quickly identified missing fewer sacks, improving his hand quickness, developing another pass-rushing move or two and using his added strength to his advantage as areas he can improve as a sophomore.

"Last year I kind of was just getting a feel for it by each game," Barnett said, "and this year I just feel like I'm more confident and I know what to do now."

There's little concern in the program about Barnett sitting out spring practice to undergo offseason shoulder surgery, and the Vols welcomed him and Maggitt back to practice.

Left tackle Kyler Kerbyson jokingly said he missed facing those two during spring practice.

"I've been talking to Derek the whole time saying, 'When are you going to get out there?'" said the fifth-year senior. "'I'm ready for you to beat me to make me better. Everyone talks about how good you are, and if I can block you I can block anybody, right?'

"I told him, 'I want some competition, man. I want you to come out there and show me something. I haven't seen you in a while,' and we just banter back and forth. It's a healthy competition. I really love it."

Since he couldn't practice, Barnett used the spring to sharpen the mental part of his game.

"I understand the game better — the schemes, the offensive line," he said. "Coach Strip (defensive line coach Steve Stripling) got on me this offseason, and guys like O.B. (defensive tackle Danny O'Brien) and Curt, they'd always be like, 'You need to improve your game, improve it mentally.' That's what I did."

Barnett and Maggitt will be integral parts of Tennessee's defense this season, so don't expect the Vols to push the envelope with their two stars.

"We're going to have to (manage them) because they only know one speed, and that's full speed," head coach Butch Jones said. "We're going to have to do a great job because it is a long camp. We chart everything so we'll make sure that we manage them."

Barnett also will have to manage greater attention from opposing offenses, who will gear their game plans to keep him from making the disruptive plays he made last season, but he's fine with that.

"We have Curt on the other side," Barnett said. "We've got guys in the middle who are good. We've got some young guys who are going to help us. If they focus on me, my teammates are just going to open up and get sacks and make big plays.

"It gets me excited because I know we're going to be good."

That's the big difference from last year to now, for both Barnett and the Vols' defensive line.

Tennessee tidbits

Jones praised cornerback Cam Sutton for demonstrating some leadership Tuesday night.

"When our second-team defense didn't sprint onto the football field," Jones said, "he called them all back and had them re-huddle and sprint on the football field. He said, 'That's not the way we do things at Tennessee.' He took advantage of that leadership opportunity."

> Jones said Tennessee's improvements in overall team speed is one of the "glaring" differences in the program entering his third season.

> In his first practice at wide receiver after switching from quarterback, freshman Jauan Jennings impressed Tennessee's head coach.

"I'm excited about Jauan," Jones said. "He's kind of sipping through a fire hose right now at the wide receiver position, but I see an individual who's a very, very gifted athlete, is very, very competitive and has very, very good hands. He made some catches where you kind of did a double take, and he got you excited."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.


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