With a handful of draft-eligible college players opting to skip bowl games this postseason to focus on NFL draft preparation, it would be understandable if a player like Derek Barnett went the same route.
Barnett, a junior who is expected to go in the first round of the 2017 draft, could arguably be a prime candidate. He’s already matched Tennessee’s all-time career sack record, his draft stock likely isn’t going to get any higher, and UT is playing in what many consider a disappointing bowl after falling short of a chance to go to the Sugar Bowl.
Maybe Barnett wants a crack at breaking that sack record. Or maybe that’s just how he’s wired. Regardless, coach Butch Jones said, if anything, Barnett is taking the opposite approach of players such as Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette.
Jones gave an example of what Barnett’s approach has been.
“There was an individual here waiting to speak to (Barnett) the other day and (Barnett) didn’t want to speak to him because he didn’t want to miss his workout in the weight room,” Jones said earlier this week. “He’s very, very driven. It’s all in how you approach this bowl preparation. Derek approached this bowl preparation as another opportunity to get better, as another opportunity to perfect his craft, and another opportunity to get stronger in the weight room. And I think those elements speak volumes for what Derek Barnett stands for.”
While that’s been Barnett’s approach, Jones said it does have to be taken on a case-by-base basis.
“I think there are a lot of extenuating circumstances that you don’t know about,” he said. “And each individual is different and they have their own reasons, so I really don’t think for me to comment on that because I don’t know. I’m sure there’s a lot of things that go into those decisions.”
But for Barnett, and a handful of other Tennessee players who could have an NFL future, it’s been business as usual this month as the Vols prepare for their Dec. 30th matchup against Nebraska in the Music City Bowl.
“All I can tell you is about our players, and you know, Derek Barnett has had one of the best bowl preparations he’s had,” Jones added. “I think you look at Cam Sutton. Cam Sutton has not been 100%, yet he’s out here every day grinding through it and team is very, very important to him. You look at Alvin Kamara. All these individuals they’ve had good bowl preparations and I’ve been very proud of that.”