Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 11/12/16. Tennessee's Alvin Kamara (6) drops Kentucky's J.D. Harmon (11) to run the ball in for a touchdown during the fourth quarter of play. The Tennessee Volunteers won over the Kentucky Wildcats with a final score of 49-36 at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn., on Saturday, November 12, 2016.

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Vols' juniors delaying NFL decisions

KNOXVILLE — Tennessee likely will lose a couple of juniors to early entry into the NFL draft, but those players aren't yet tipping their hands.

After the Volunteers resumed preparations for the Music City Bowl with an indoor practice Monday, defensive end Derek Barnett, running back Alvin Kamara and wide receiver Josh Malone all downplayed any NFL talk with one game remaining this season.

"I'll probably make a decision after the season," Barnett told reporters after practice. "I'm not worried too much about that. I'm worried about just finishing the season out the right way. If we do that, I'll start thinking about the next step."

Barnett and Kamara are expected to take their talents into the draft, while Malone at least will give the NFL a long look after an 852-yard, 10-touchdown junior campaign.

Tennessee did not have a player picked in the past two NFL drafts.

"I ain't even been focusing on that," Malone said. "Really I've just been focusing on the season. Right now I've been focusing on Nebraska. I've not been letting any outside noise come in. I've just been focusing on getting wins."

The list of postseason accolades continues to grow for Barnett, who was named an Associated Press All-American on Monday. He's the first Vol to make the AP's first team since Eric Berry in 2009. The All-SEC first-team selection also earned All-America distinction from the Walter Camp Foundation and The Sporting News.

With 12 sacks this season Barnett is one away from breaking Reggie White's program record for career sacks against Nebraska on Dec. 30, and he's widely projected as a first-round pick by many NFL analysts.

"I live in the moment and enjoy every day," he said. "Playing college football is fun. I enjoy it. I don't look too far ahead. I'm just enjoying the moment right now."


Kamara is a projected mid-round pick whose versatility, speed and elusiveness translate well at the next level, but he didn't want to talk about the NFL on Monday.

"I kind of go day by day," he said. "I don't really look ahead. When you look ahead you kind of miss the small things in life. I don't want to be looking ahead and miss being around my teammates and my coaches and miss an opportunity to prepare how I know I can prepare. I'm not worried about (turning) pro."

Kamara was one of four Vols to test the NFL draft waters last season — only wide receiver Marquez North decided to leave, and he was not drafted — and he was able to showcase his talents with Jalen Hurd out of the picture this season. In the four games in which he was Tennessee's featured back, Kamara ran for 379 yards and eight touchdowns while catching 19 passes for 247 yards and two other scores.

"I'm really just always hyper-focused on what I have to do in the now, and I just try to stay committed and consistent to whatever I'm taking part in it," Kamara said. "I'm here at Tennessee, so that's what I'm taking part in right now. I'm not looking forward or I'm not looking back. I'm just in this moment.

"I'm sitting here doing an interview with you guys. I can't look forward to an interview about (turning) pro. I'm just living in the moment. That's how I savor my life."

While the juniors weigh their decisions or delay their announcements, two Tennessee seniors will have the opportunity to improve their NFL stock next month.

Quarterback Josh Dobbs and cornerback Cameron Sutton have accepted invitations to the Senior Bowl. The game is Jan. 28 at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala., but Dobbs and Sutton will hope to use the practices during the week to impress NFL scouts and front-office personnel. Practices will be live on ESPN2 and the game will be on the NFL Network.

Dobbs, a second-team All-SEC selection, led the league with 26 touchdown passes and a 151.5 quarterback rating while rushing for 713 yards and nine touchdowns this season.

Sutton considered entering the NFL draft after his junior season before deciding to return to Tennessee, but an ankle injury against Ohio forced him to miss six games and struggle when he did return in November.

"They've meant a lot to this program," Malone said. "They came here when the program was in a bad spot and they helped get the program back to where it needs to be. They had so much importance on this program, and I'm happy they got to the Senior Bowl and all the awards they've gotten throughout their careers because they all deserved it.

"They put in a lot of hard work and they all deserve all the accomplishments and accolades that they get."

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