It’s the point in August where players are ready to hit someone other than their teammates. For Tennessee specifically, the players are ready to hit someone else and put last season behind them.
“I think last year is last year, so we don’t worry about it,” Tennessee junior linebacker Darrell Taylor said on Monday. “We have a new coaching staff, and we’re ready to move forward. We’re preparing for the season as hard as we can.”
Many are down on Tennessee heading into this season after the Vols went 4-8 last year. Last year saw Tennessee’s head coach get fired and the Vols go 0-8 in conference play for the first time in program history.
Such a horrid season could linger in some programs. But under Jeremy Pruitt, the switch was flipped from the jump.
“You have to flip the switch,” Taylor stated. “It was hard on us, but as long as we prepare like we’re supposed to in the offseason and in camp, I think we’ll be fine.”
Part of flipping the switch instantly is being able to trust who you’re playing for. Pruitt is known as a players-coach, and that’s already manifested itself in Knoxville.
“I think it’s been pretty awesome,” Taylor said when asked about playing for Pruitt. “He’s a great guy and he’s teaching us more about football, how to play football, and how to be a man too.
“He came in and told us what he wanted out of us, and I think we’ve held up the standard so far. Off the field, he’s really great. We go over to his house and have dinner and watch TV and have fun and talk football.”
Hanging out with the first-year head coach has been important in building trust amongst the players. Allowing the players to hang around Pruitt’s wife and kids allows them to see that they’re also a part of his family. According to Taylor, the trust is beneficial because players have to be able to trust the coaches to make the right calls. That’s something the players couldn’t do last season.
Tennessee’s 2017 season may have been dreadful, but it started with a bang. Tennessee opened the season with a thrilling 42-41 win over Georgia Tech in overtime. Taylor recorded 12 tackles in the win, stepping up as a starter for the first time.
“It was a pretty fun game,” Taylor said. “It was long, and it was hard, and it was a well-fought game. We had a great time playing.”
The Vols will open up the Pruitt era with another long, hard, demanding game against No. 17 West Virginia on Saturday. The Mountaineers possess one of the best offenses in the country headed up by Heisman Trophy hopeful quarterback Will Grier.
But with a new sense of trust, Tennessee’s defense will look to hold that offense in check.
“I think their offense is really good,” Taylor said when asked about what he’s seen in West Virginia. “They have a decent offensive line, and they have a nice quarterback. If we do our job and prepare like we’re supposed to, we’ll be just fine.
“I think Will Grier is a pretty good quarterback, and they have a pretty explosive offense. I think our defense is pretty good too, so we’ll have to do our job and see what the end result is.”
Taylor is in a new role this season. Last year, he had his hand in the dirt as a 4-3 defensive end. This year, the Virginia native will be a 3-4 linebacker. And he’s excited to show off his athleticism in his new role.
“They have a really good offense, and as a competitor it makes things more fun because it makes a bigger challenge for us,” Taylor said. “We have to make sure we execute our game plan.
“We’re excited to play this weekend. Couldn’t be excited enough.”