KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Two players expected to make an impact this fall for the Tennessee football team did not compete in any games for the Vols in 2017.
Redshirt juniors Brandon Kennedy and Darrin Kirkland Jr. were both competing in the Orange and White on Wednesday afternoon, however, on the indoor fields at the Anderson Training Center after inclement weather forced Tennessee’s first full pads practice inside – a workout that will routinely test a team’s toughness.
“We had our first day in pads yesterday, lots of good, lots of bad,” head coach Jeremy Pruitt said on Thursday following a morning walk-through session. “Really inconsistent. Lots of lessons to be learned. We’ve got some guys that play with toughness, but they don’t do it all the time. So, they show that they can do it, but if you’re going to be a great player or have a great team, the number one, core ingredient is; you better have a tough football team.”
Kennedy and Kirkland are both veterans who will be counted on for their experience in making toughness a consistent trait of the Vols.
Kennedy, an offensive lineman, joined UT this summer as a graduate transfer following three years and two national championships at Alabama.
“Brandon is a really good competitor and he strains and he knows how to strain and he knows how to do it every play,” Pruitt said. “A guy like him, I think he’s quickly earned the respect of his teammates by the way he practices, by the way he goes about his business and I think everybody in our program is excited that he’s here.”
Kirkland, Jr., a linebacker, also earned his degree this summer and could’ve transferred, but opted to stay with the Volunteers for the next two years to help lead Pruitt’s defense. Kirkland missed last season with a knee injury, but he was an All-SEC Freshman selection in 2015.
“First of all, he’s a smart guy,” Pruitt said about Kirkland. “He has a really good understanding of the defense. That says a lot about him because he didn’t take hardly any reps in the spring. He picks things up fast, and I think the guy’s instinctive, I think he shows some toughness and he’s got quickness. Every day that he’s out there I see him improving and gaining confidence with himself and what he can get done.”
Kirkland called the Tennessee fans “the best in the universe” and said his teammates picked him up if he was ever down during his injury rehabilitation.
“My teammates really helped me a lot, Kirkland said. “So I’m happy to be there for them now.”
A quick learner, Kirkland is excited to be a key member of Pruitt’s defense, which will rely on versatility and feature multiple looks.
“It gives us a lot of different looks and different bases,” Kirkland said. “It shows guys a lot of attributes that they can use in the game, so I’m just excited to move forward with it.”
Kennedy is also excited to be a leader on the Vols’ offense. He is taking some of what he learned as a part of Alabama’s national championship teams in 2015 and 2017 and applying it on Rocky Top.
“I’m just trying to earn my teammates respect, daily,” Kennedy said. “I also want to push them because I’m coming from a championship team. So, I want to bring that leadership here.”
Pruitt Stresses Competition in Special Teams
The Vols lost school-record holding punter Trevor Daniel to the NFL after last fall and will be looking to replace him with either true freshman Paxton Brooks or redshirt freshman Joe Doyle.
Pruitt said there is an open competition for special teams jobs on Thursday.
“When you’re putting in special teams, you take a couple of teams each day that you work on,” he said. “Being five days into practice, you know it’s probably not a good time to assess what these guys can or can’t do. We still have open competition; you’ll probably see a little more in scrimmage situations.”
Redshirt junior long-snapper Riley Lovingood has a close look at the special teams competition and he is impressed with the work ethic of the punters.
“The way Joe Doyle and Paxton Brooks are coming out each day, you can tell they are really taking their craft seriously,” Lovingood said. “They are watching film and breaking down their punts because they know the big shoes they have to fill. I’m really excited to see them both out there competing for it every day. It will be fun to watch.”
Rachel Baribeau One of Many Speakers for the Vols
On Monday, renown speaker Rachel Baribeau visited with Vols to talk about “changing the narrative,” including how to have a purpose, platform and passion. Dr. Tommy Shavers and Dr. Kevin Elko also talked to the Vols earlier this week, while VFLs Chris Walker and Jamal Lewis will speak to the squad in the coming days. Pruitt has been bringing in speakers to talk to the Vols about off-the-field subjects since he arrived.
“Since I’ve been here, once a month we’ve met with our team whether its drug, alcohol or how to treat the opposite sex,” he said. “During the summertime, they took a wellness class and met once a week, so everyone was involved in it. That’s important to us. It’s important to our society…Every night we bring in speakers who talk about being a leader, about being a good teammate, something, every night during fall camp. (Rachel) did a really good job the other day and we’ve had some really great speakers this fall camp.”