Jeremy Pruitt said back in mid-September that he wanted to see leaders step up and “confront other people” during practice. Pruitt wasn’t pleased with his team’s practice efforts the week before the UTEP game, and he made his feelings known after practice one day. And he called out Tennessee’s player leaders.
“We’re gonna have to do a lot better in practice if we’re gonna get to where we’d love to be at the end of this season.” Pruitt said after that practice. “It’s going to take some guys that’s gonna have to confront other people. It’s interesting. We’ve got some guys on our team that I think are really good leaders, but to be a leader you have to be able to confront your peers. And right now, when you’re out there at practice, the only ones doing the confronting is the coaching staff.
“Last time I checked, there’s not any of these coaches out there playing during the game. We’ve got to continue to improve that. We’ve gotta support the leadership on our team so we can improve as a team.”
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But that was almost exactly a month ago. The Vols have played three games since then and just went through their bye week. Have any leaders stepped up in the meantime?
According to Pruitt, one of Tennessee’s defenders is starting to answer the bell.
During Vol Calls on Wednesday night, a Vol fan called in and asked Jeremy Pruitt about the leaders on the team. Pruitt was asked if any leaders had emerged over the last few weeks, and Pruitt named a redshirt junior defender as someone who has stood out to him.
“I think we have a lot of guys that have grown when it comes to that,” Pruitt explained. “I think a lot of it is kind of expectations. You know, it’s tough for anybody to step out and kind of be that guy when they don’t exactly know the expectations of a coaching staff or things like that, but I think we’ve got a lot of guys that have worked really hard, and I go by how they practice, what kind of effect they have on their teammates.
“One guy that has really stuck out to me in the last few weeks is Darrell Taylor. I see the guy competing every day. He has a smile on his face. He’s ready to go to work, so that’s a good thing.”
Taylor is in his fourth year with the Tennessee football program, and he’s coming off easily the best game of his career two weekends ago. The 6-foot-4, 247-pound outside linebacker totaled three sacks, two tackles for loss, and forced two fumbles against Georgia two weeks ago. And according to Pruitt, not only is he improving on the field, but he’s stepping up as a leader too.
As a redshirt freshman, Taylor caught national acclaim for his now-famous “WGWTFA” comment prior to the Battle at Bristol. But aside from that comment, Taylor hasn’t gained much attention as a Vol. But his play against Georgia turned heads, and Pruitt is beginning to see the traits of a leader emerge.
But according to Pruitt, Taylor isn’t the only player on the practice field who’s stepped up lately.
“I see Nigel Warrior. I jumped his tail pretty good today at practice, and just by the way he responds,” Pruitt stated. “It’s kind of one of those deals about, ‘Coach me, Coach.’ I mean, he (said) let’s take it, let’s get it, let’s get it corrected and let’s fix it.
“We’re moving in the right direction, and I think as this season goes, that kind of stuff is contagious, and what you want is you want a team full of guys that way, and I think we’re headed in that direction. I mentioned those two guys, and they’re not the only ones. We got others.”
If Tennessee is going to win any conference games this season and end their extended SEC losing streak, players like Taylor and Warrior will need to step up not only on the field, but in the locker room as well. And Pruitt is liking what he’s seen in that regard from some of Tennessee’s leaders now.