Detailed analysis: Barnett, Maggitt lead an improved Tennessee defense in 2014
The Tennessee Volunteers’ lineup was full of freshmen stars, but none shined brighter than Derek Barnett. The former four-star prospect became the first true freshman in school history to start at defensive end in a season opener.
Barnett answered the call by setting a Tennessee freshman record for sacks (10) and tackles for loss (20.5), finishing in the top-5 among SEC players in both categories.
The Brentwood native flourished playing opposite veteran Curt Maggitt. Maggitt, who spent his first three seasons at outside linebacker, played as a DE/LB hybrid and led the Vols with 11 sacks. The redshirt junior enjoyed the first full season of his career after having his first two seasons cut short due to injuries and missing the entire 2013 campaign.
EMERGENCE OF JALEN REEVES-MAYBIN
In 2013, freshman linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin spent the majority of his playing time on special teams. The former Clarksville Northeast two-way athlete led the unit with 11 total tackles and had at least one tackle on special teams in six games in a row.
Reeves-Maybin entered the 2014 season with a much larger role, starting at outside linebacker in all 12 games for the Vols. The sophomore recorded 88 total tackles, finishing 10th in the SEC and second among Tennessee’s defense.
BALL HAWKS IN THE SECONDARY
Cornerbacks Justin Coleman and Cameron Sutton combined for seven of Vols’ 15 total interceptions. Sutton, who’s started in every game since enrolling at Tennessee in 2013, was snubbed of an All-SEC selection, despite excelling in coverage against some of the SEC’s top playmakers.
“If I was a betting man — I don’t bet — but if I was guessing, I think it probably motivates him,” Vols secondary coach Willie Martinez told the Times Free Press’ Patrick Brown this past week “This is a tough league. This is a league that’s got a lot of really good players, and from top to bottom it’s the best in the country.”
Freshman Todd Kelly Jr. made three starts in his first collegiate season and made the most of his limited playing time. The second-generation Volunteer recorded three interceptions, tying for second among Tennessee’s defense.