Tennessee-Texas A&M could feature game’s top 2 pass rushers
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett is downplaying the notion that Saturday’s game at No. 8 Texas A&M represents an opportunity to show he’s the nation’s top pass rusher.
Barnett says he isn’t concerned with measuring himself against Texas A&M star defensive end Myles Garrett. The Tennessee junior instead wants to make sure the ninth-ranked Volunteers (5-0, 2-0 SEC) maintain their momentum in this matchup of unbeaten teams.
“I play against the offense, so I’ve just been watching film of the offensive guys,” Barnett said. “They have a great offense as well. Myles is a great ballplayer. I think it will be a fun game.”
It will be even more intriguing if Garrett is healthy enough to play for Texas A&M (5-0, 3-0). The 2015 Southeastern Conference sacks leader missed a 24-13 victory at South Carolina last week with a leg injury, and Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin has declined to provide an update on Garrett’s status.
Garrett, also a junior, has 27 career sacks to lead all active Football Bowl Subdivision players. Barnett isn’t far behind with 24. Barnett has 41½ tackles for loss, while Garrett has 38½.
ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay ranks Garrett second and Barnett 16th among all draft-eligible players regardless of position. Rob Rang, a senior draft analyst for CBS Sports and nfldraftscout.com, ranks Garrett first overall and rates Barnett as a late first-round pick. Rang also lists Texas A&M defensive end Daeshon Hall as a potential second-round pick.
″(Barnett’s) powerful at the point of attack, a very effective run defender as well as a pass rusher,” Rang said. “He’s a good football player. I just don’t know that he’s quite as athletic as the other two (Garrett and Hall). His production certainly speaks for itself, and the consistency throughout his career.”
Tennessee coach Butch Jones praises Garrett’s “relentless approach” and calls him a “very, very dynamic football player.” Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike DeBord adds that Garrett “has got every move known to mankind.”
Sumlin is equally complimentary of Barnett.
“He’s a tremendous athlete, a tremendous football player,” Sumlin said. “You play a lot of guys in this league who are high-level pass rushers that have ability, that have talent. But I think what sets him apart, a lot like Myles Garrett, is production. You’ve got the top two most productive pass rushers in college football over time in this game with him and Myles.”
Barnett has been at his best lately.
In Tennessee’s SEC opener, Barnett recorded two sacks as the Volunteers rallied to beat Florida 38-28 . He posted two more sacks and forced an end-zone fumble that resulted in a touchdown in a 34-31 triumph at Georgia last week.
Barnett believes he still has room for improvement.
“After every game, there’s always something I can do better,” he said. “I didn’t play my best game against Georgia. I was a little sloppy with my technique.”
Barnett has carried a defense that is missing three key players , with injuries sidelining linebackers Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Darrin Kirkland Jr. plus cornerback Cam Sutton. For much of his career, Barnett preferred to lead by example, but he’s become more vocal this year.
“Everyone talks about his productivity on the field and being a great football player, and he deserves that,” Jones said. “But his leadership, I think, is one of the most untold stories or unsung things about this football team.”
Jones coached Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown at Central Michigan and Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce at Cincinnati. He continually gives examples of how those players’ work habits in college helped them launch successful NFL careers. Jones says he expects to tell similar stories about Barnett “for as long as I’m in coaching.”
Jones calls Barnett a “self-made person in every way, shape, form.”
“When you graduate and leave our football program, you’re going to want to come back here one day with your wife and your kids,” Jones said. “When you walk through these hallways, what are they going to say about you? How have you made the program better? He’s one of those individuals who will have an impacting impression on our football program for many years to come.”
AP Sports Writer Kristie Rieken in College Station, Texas, contributed to this report.
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