KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Ask Bob Shoop about All-American defensive end Derek Barnett, and Tennessee’s defensive coordinator effusively praises the junior like he’s taking about his own son.
“I can’t say enough about Derek Barnett,” Shoop said this week.
“I know other players might get more recognition, but that guy, he means as much to this team — and this unit — as any player anywhere. He is the heart and soul. He practices hard every single day.”
The Nashville native is such a workhorse, he literally vetoed his head coach during practice this week. According to Shoop, Barnett made the team complete a drill when Butch Jones was satisfied ending practice early.
“We had been out on the field yesterday,” Shoop explained.
“And Coach Jones says, ‘You know, do we need this last period? Let’s cut a couple reps.’ And Barnett says, ‘No. We need this. Let’s go.’ And we finished the reps.”
Barnett was a dynamo last Saturday, changing the game during a four-play sequence late in the third quarter of Tennessee’s stirring comeback over Florida.
Tackle for loss.
“Derek Barnett took our team and put it on his shoulders,” Shoop said.
“That second half performance was as good a performance I’ve seen from an individual in a long time.”
Earlier this week, Tennessee’s junior end spoke about UT’s rally against UF, his quiet leadership and what to expect from Georgia this weekend.
How has the team been able to move on from such an emotional win?
Barnett: “It was just that snap and clear mindset. It was a good team win. We celebrated. But now it’s a new week. We’re preparing for Georgia and doing things correctly to get this W.”
How did the defensive line respond after halftime?
Barnett: “We were calm at halftime. We knew we were hurting ourselves. Defensively, we knew that Florida wasn’t doing anything we hadn’t seen. They had a few deep balls and two screen passes, but we knew we were messing ourselves up. We came out. Made some adjustments. Got on the board, had some 3-and-outs and got right back in it.
“We were just eating off of each other. The guys inside were getting great push, (Cory) Vereen was playing good. We had a great rotation going on, so we stayed fresh and I think that helped all of us play at a high level.”
How would you describe your demeanor on vs. off the field?
Barnett: “That’s a hard question. I would describe myself off the field laid back, calm. On the field, very intense. Just very, very intense.”
Do your teammates feed off your practice habits, work ethic?
Barnett: “I get a sense of it. Some young guys tell me they look up to me and stuff. I just try to do things correctly. I feel like everybody is a leader. Everybody is a leader in different ways. I’m not the only leader on the team. We have many great leaders.”
What are your impressions of UGA quarterback Jacob Eason?
Barnett: “I don’t think he looks like a freshman quarterback. He’s confident. He’s taken some big hits but he’s gotten right up. They have a good offensive line. They have two real good running backs, so it’s going to be a good ballgame for us. I’m excited to see how we play.”
How is Nick Chubb different than most tailbacks in the country?
Barnett: “Every time he runs he’s trying to get yards after contact. We definitely have to do a good job tackling him. They also have another running back that’s just as good as Chubb, so they’re going to run the ball on us and we’re going to have to try to stop it.”