KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The ink has yet to dry in the Tennessee football record books where Derek Barnett’s new all-time sacks mark is concerned.
But already, there’s another up-and-coming Vols’ defender being compared to Barnett — a likely first-round pick in the upcoming NFL draft — and this rising star doesn’t even have a career sack yet.
“Darrell Taylor, he’s pretty crazy off the edge, he’s the most athletic person on this team,” said Marcus Tatum, a 6-foot-6, 265-pound sophomore offensive tackle. “His first step is great – I compare him to Derek sometimes. He’s been trying to adopt the same moves, and it’s really translating.”
Taylor, a 6-foot-4, 255-pound redshirt sophomore from Hopewell, Va., arrived at Tennessee as a 4-star recruit with a bevy of offers, including Virginia Tech, Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, Notre Dame at Miami.
Suddenly, Taylor is living up to his billing and opening eyes each day of spring drills.
It’s the sort of thing that needs to happen in every position group, with Tennessee needing to capitalize on Coach Butch Jones’ successful recruiting classes of past years.
“It’s gradually happened for me, over time,” Taylor said this spring. “I’ve tried to work hard on and off the field, trying to be a leader.
“I’m not ready yet, but I’m getting there, that’s what spring is for,” he said. “I’m working on some pass rush moves, but I feel I need to get better when it comes to run downs.”
Tennessee lost starting defensive ends Barnett and Corey Vereen off last season’s team, and projected starters Jonathan Kongbo (sprained knee) and Kyle Phillips (offseason shoulder surgery) figure to be sidelined the rest of spring drills.
The Vols have also been without veteran defensive tackles Shy Tuttle (knee), Kendal Vickers (shoulder) and Kahlil McKenzie (pectoral) most of spring.
New Tennessee defensive line coach Brady Hoke said players like Taylor have benefitted from the extra work.
“The guys out here are working their tails off in a lot of respects,” Hoke said, “because they didn’t get a lot of reps last year during the fall.
“They are getting double the reps.”
Taylor appeared in seven games last season, recording nine tackles, three pass break-ups and a tackle-for-loss. He is best known, perhaps, for predicting Tennessee would beat Virginia Tech just before kickoff of the “Battle at Bristol.” The Vols won, 45-24.