Last year, Darrell Taylor gave Vol fans a memorable quote before the Battle at Bristol when he was caught on camera predicting the Vols to beat Virginia Tech (though he used much more colorful language). On Tuesday, Taylor didn’t give quite as bombastic of a quote, but what he said should still please Vol fans.
Tennessee was picked to win the SEC East last season, but they failed to live up to those expectations thanks to collapsing in the second half of the season. Because of that, the hype around the Vols this offseason has been significantly less than it was last year. But according to Taylor, that’s a good thing.
“I prefer to be the underdog,” Taylor told reporters at a media session on Tuesday. “I’ve always been an underdog my whole life, so I’m ready to eat. We’re all ready to eat.”
Not only are the Vols “ready to eat” as Taylor said, but he also likened the 2017 team to a predator in hiding, waiting to pounce on its prey.
“I feel like we’re laying in the grass waiting to strike,” Taylor stated. “Our team’s not talked about as much now, so I feel like we’re just waiting for our opportunity to shine. We’re going to do what we’ve got to do to get there.”
Part of Taylor’s confidence comes from the improvements he’s seen in the team thanks to the addition of Rock Gullickson as the strength and conditioning coach. Tennessee’s coaches and players have raved about Gullickson’s strength program from the summer, and Taylor joined them in praising the new addition to the staff.
“He’s done a lot of great things for the team,” Taylor said of Gullickson. “We have gotten a lot stronger and faster. We do a lot of explosive things in the weight room. That has helped the team a lot because everyone is flying around on the field and doing great things with a lot of energy.
“I’ve gotten better with my bench press and squat, and I’ve gotten a lot better with my power cling form and technique.”
And as Taylor said, those improvements have helped the Vols “fly around on the field” more during the first few days of fall camp. And Taylor has noticed that kind of energy and stamina all throughout the defense.
“I think our defense has a lot of energy guys,” Taylor said. “We’re going to be able to run around and make a lot of plays. We’re able to swarm to the ball. We have a great effort.”
After the hiring of Bob Shoop as defensive coordinator prior to the 2016 season, many fans and analysts alike expected the Vols’ defense to improve mightily last season. But injuries took their toll, and the Vols defense declined pretty severely from 2015 to 2016 as a result.
Taylor himself has dealt with injuries in his Tennessee career, but now the Vols need him to step up at defensive end this season. And now that he’s finally bulked up (he’s up to 254 pounds), he has the frame to be able to withstand an SEC season.
And it’s because of his strength and conditioning gains and the rest of the teams’ gains too that Taylor believes the Vols will surprise people this year.