Jeremy Pruitt explains why Darrin Kirkland Jr. announced transfer but plans to stay at Tennessee
In an abrupt about-face, Tennessee lost one of the program’s most talented linebackers before gaining him back over the Memorial Day Weekend. So what exactly happened that caused Darrin Kirkland Jr. to announce his departure from Tennessee, only to have him decide to stay on a few days later?
According to ESPN’s Chris Low, Jeremy Pruitt met with Kirkland and his family over the weekend and together they decided Kirkland’s best option was to stay in Knoxville to finish out his collegiate playing career. Once one of Tennessee most promising young defenders, Kirkland missed nearly half of the 2016 season and the entire 2017 season due to injury.
“The injuries have been hard on him, but he wants to be here and we want him here,” Pruitt said to ESPN.com. “He can definitely help us.”
Kirkland officially took a redshirt season in 2017 and now has two years left to play in Pruitt’s defense. While some have questioned whether he can successfully stay on the field given his history of injuries, Tennessee’s new strength staff has already proven to be an upgrade over any in Knoxville in years as the team did not suffer any significant injuries in the spring.
A big part of what makes Kirkland so valuable for Tennessee is his intelligence. The defensive system being run in Knoxville, the same as the one run in Tuscaloosa and Athens, relies on smart linebackers that can recognize what offenses are doing in real time and help call checks and get their teammates in the best possible position to succeed. It’s rare that Alabama or Georgia puts a young linebacker on the field for that reason.
During his appearance at the SEC Spring Meetings in Destin, Pruitt was asked about Kirkland’s decision to announce his transfer. According to his head coach, the decision to stay in Knoxville was Kirkland’s.
“Guys in this day and time, when they graduate, they kinda feel like they’ve fulfilled their obligation. This day and time, you see a lot of folks moving from one school to the other,” Pruitt said in a YouTube video posted by Knoxville News Sentinel. “I don’t think Darrin was unhappy in any way, he just wanted to see if there’s any possibility that he might want to further his career and he decided he wants to stay at the University of Tennessee.”
Considering the number of linebackers Tennessee’s coaching staff has put into the NFL, that could prove to be a very valuable decision by Kirkland.