KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Eager for the SEC home opener, Tennessee players utilized the bye week to refresh and work on fundamentals. With No. 3/3 Georgia’s visit to Neyland Stadium on Saturday night at 7 p.m. (ET), it will be the first encounter with the Bulldogs for a handful of younger Vols.
A host of freshmen have made an immediate impact for the Vols in the early part of the season and one first-year standout in Tennessee’s secondary, Warren Burrell, has stepped into the starting rotation with the intent to wreak havoc on opponent’s offensive pursuits.
“It has been kind of surreal to make an impact this early on,” Burrell said. “It is a big deal; it is something I don’t take for granted. The thing about it, no matter what level you play the sport on, football is football. I just go out there, play to the best of my ability, and do my best to make an impact out there.”
Burrell has started all four games so far, collecting 10 tackles to date. The Suwanee, Ga., native credits sophomores Alontae Taylor and Bryce Thompson for guiding him into the player he has quickly developed into.
“(Taylor and Thompson) helped me out as far as getting everything down,” Burrell said. “There was a bunch of stuff that I thought I knew, but I didn’t. Those guys really helped me out to be able to get me to this point I am at now.”
Taylor and Thompson combined for 19 starts as true freshmen last season, with Thompson earning FWAA All-American and SEC All-Freshman team honors.
To’o To’o and Bituli Work in Tandem
Burrell’s classmate, linebacker Henry To’o To’o, leads the Vols with 25 and 2.5 tackles for loss, which has earned him praise from the upperclassmen.
“(He’s) really good,” said senior linebacker Daniel Bituli. “Just about everything I’ve been talking about has come to reality. Him and a whole bunch of the younger guys are doing a great job of coming in and watching film.
“I was actually at home yesterday and I FaceTimed the young guys and they were still at the facility at 9:00, 10:00 last night. It felt really good to know that these young guys are working so hard. Obviously, we’re seeing the results of all that work they’re putting in. I’m happy for them.”
Bituli and To’o To’o tied for a team-high eight tackles in the Vol’s last outing at Florida. The freshman also recovered the senior’s forced fumble against the Gators.
“It means a lot to me because I want to play for the seniors, to be able to have them leave with a happy end,” To’o To’o said. “I want them to be able to leave Tennessee happy with how this season went. We obviously have a lot of work to do, especially me. I have a lot of ways to improve. We’ll move forward with that.”
The Vols’ 1969 team will meet at Neyland Stadium for their 50th reunion on Saturday. The team will be honored during the game. Led by head coach Doug Dickey, Tennessee finished 9-2 and captured the SEC Championship, beating ranked Auburn, Alabama and Georgia teams along the way. Dickey, who later served as the Vols’ Director of Athletics from 1986 to 2003, will also be honored on Friday night with the dedication of the Doug Dickey Hall of Fame Plaza.
Player Media Availability, Oct. 1
Brandon Kennedy, R-Sr., OL
On how the team feels with a 1-3 record to start the season:
“The thing that we really focus on is that it’s a long season. We’re only a third of the way through. We’ve got eight games, and even more to improve. That’s what we’ve been focusing on as a team.”
On if the bye week helped the team regroup:
“I definitely think it helped us regroup. We were able to go back and practice the fundamentals, the little things and some of the things that we didn’t do as well in the past three or four games we’ve played.”
On how he feels the offensive line is playing as a unit:
“I think we’ve made improvements each week and this bye week has really allowed us to grow as an offensive line, as far as communication and playing on the same page. Those were our biggest strides.”
On what he saw from the quarterbacks during the bye week:
“I think they all used it as a tool to get better this week. The competition is great and it brings out the best in everyone.”
On if he feels that getting more playing time this season has helped him:
“As far as me playing, it’s better because last year I only played one game. This year, being able to play at least four games and being able to get my feet back under myself has really helped my play.”
Darrell Taylor, R-Sr., LB
On what he feels he can improve upon in the future:
“First thing is I’ve got to fix my effort. I don’t think I’ve played as hard as I should have played, and that’s going to change over the next few weeks. Just get better running to the ball, chasing backside plays, just having a lot of effort plays on tape, and getting better with my pass rush skills, just honing in on that in practice, and making sure I get that done during the week to execute it in the game on Saturday.”
On if the defense challenges themselves to create quarterback pressure:
“That’s definitely something we look at as a defensive line and outside linebackers. We look at that and say we have a challenge this week, and we’re going to have to work super hard to get after the quarterback this weekend and affect him all game.”
On the plan for the team to improve and what that will look like:
“I think we just have to get rid of mistakes. The first game maxim is the team that makes the fewest mistakes will win, and I think if we can emphasize that we will win a lot more games than we’ve won already. Once we get rid of our mistakes, I think we will definitely put ourselves in a position to be very successful for the rest of the season.”
On if Georgia’s offense is the best this defense has faced all season:
“Yeah, I think so. Their offense is pretty good, and I tip my hat to them, but I think our defense is really good, too. So, as long as we stay on top of our game and play our best game on Saturday and not make any mistakes and cause turnovers, I definitely think we’ll have a possibility to win the game.”
Warren Burrell, Fr., DB
On starting as a freshman:
“It has been kind of surreal to make an impact this early on. It is a big deal, it is something I don’t take for granted. The thing about it, no matter what level you play the sport on, football is football. I just go out there, play to the best of my ability, and do my best to make an impact out there.”
On Alontae Thompson and Bryce Thompson’s guidance:
“Those are the guys who helped me out as far as getting everything down. There was a bunch of stuff that I thought I knew, but I didn’t. Those guys really helped me out to be able to get me to this point I am at now.”
On the freshmen comradery:
“We all came in, in the same class. Since high school, we have been communicating, group chats and things like that. Especially being here now, we all have classes together and are with one another 24-7. I trust them, I know every single one of the. I love these guys, I love being here.”
On the appeal of playing for Tennessee:
“Coach (Jeremy) Pruitt, especially with all of us, told us we were going to have an opportunity to make an impact. With us, the thing we all have in common is all we need is an opportunity. We all made the decision to come here, work out butts off to try to get Tennessee where it needs to be.”
On Coach Jeremy Pruitt:
“It’s great. You already know with Coach Pruitt what his pedigree, the type of person he is, the DBs he’s put in the NFL, first-round picks he’s had, and he’s a guy who knows what he’s talking about. It’s a great opportunity to be coached directly under him. It’s a big reason as to why I wanted to come here; having the opportunity to do that is great.”
Daniel Bituli, Sr., LB
On how he would assess himself as a pass rusher:
“I feel like I’ve gotten better, thanks to the coaches – Coach Rumph, Coach Pruitt, Coach Sherrer. They’ve shown me good pass-rushing moves all offseason. I’m ready to work on that.”
On what he’s seen out of Henry To’o To’o this season:
“(He’s) really good. Just about everything I’ve been talking about has come to reality. Him and a whole bunch of the younger guys are doing a great job of coming in and watching film. I was actually at home yesterday and I FaceTimed the young guys and they were still at the facility at 9:00, 10:00 last night. It felt really good to know that these young guys are working so hard. Obviously, we’re seeing the results of all that work they’re putting in. I’m happy for them.”
On what a win on Saturday would mean for the team and the program:
“It would feel great. It would also show how good we could have been at the start of the season, if we hadn’t beat ourselves. At the end of the day, that’s what it all comes down to. A win this week would definitely help secure that within the team.”
On Georgia’s offensive efficiency:
“They’re physical. They know which gap they want to hit before each and every play. That’s just about it. It’s football. At the end of the day, the coaches can call up a play but if we don’t go out there and figure out the play ourselves, play hard that specific play, anything can go anybody’s way. We’ve just got to go out there and be physical, have the first swing and it will start going our way if we do that.”
Henry To’o To’o, Fr., LB
On if he asks questions outside of football, as well as in football:
“I kind of just want to know everything. I don’t walk with a blindfold on, walking around not knowing what to do. I kind of take that approach with everything.”
On what it means to hear his teammates praise his play:
“It means a lot to me because I want to play for the seniors, to be able to have them leave with a happy end. I want them to be able to leave here at Tennessee happy with how this season went. We obviously have a lot of work to do, especially me. I have a lot of ways to improve. We’ll move forward with that.”
On what advice his parents have given him this season:
“Perseverance. Never give up. That’s what my family’s really based upon. Push through adversity. When something hits you hard, you keep going and never give up.”
On what the opportunity is going to be like against Georgia on Saturday:
“They’re a great team. They’re big, fast, and physical. This is what you come here to play for, SEC football. You come here for challenges and this is a big challenge. This is something that we’re really looking forward to.”
On how he hopes to bring his own culture to Tennessee:
“That’s why we came here. We’ve seen an opportunity. We came here to change something for the better, to play for Coach Pruitt and his vision to be able to turn things around.”