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Front Page - Friday, April 7, 2017

Vols work to impress NFL scouts in advance of draft

Derek Barnett knows he will hear his name called in the April 27-29 NFL Draft. He’s just not sure when.

“Earliest as possible,” says the Nashville native and former Tennessee defensive end. “But it’s out of my control.”

Barnett, who played at Brentwood Academy, did enough in his three seasons at UT to make himself a potential top 20 pick.

NFL Mock Draft Central has Barnett as high as No. 9, going to the Cincinnati Bengals. CBSSports.com has him No. 16, going to play for the Baltimore Ravens.

That was before Tennessee’s 2017 Pro Day last Friday at the Anderson Training Facility, where 20 former Vols worked out in front of representatives from all 32 NFL teams.

Tennessee hasn’t had a player chosen in the NFL Draft since 2014 when Ja’Wuan James, Zach Fulton, and Daniel McCullers were picked. Barnett will end the streak. He’s a solid first-round projection, with former UT running back Alvin Kamara a possible late first-round or second-round pick.

Barnett is confident going into the draft and will roll with wherever he goes.

“It’s not like college (when) I get to pick where I want to go,” Barnett says. “I think I have three great years of film playing here. I think I went through this training pretty good, and now it’s up to the teams to make a decision.”

Barnett, a first- and second-team All-American in 2016, caught a virus and missed the first day of workouts at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis on March 4. He fought through the illness for the next day’s workouts and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.88 seconds and the three-cone drill in 6.96 seconds, the fifth-best time for a defensive lineman.

“I hoped it impressed some scouts,” Barnett adds of working out even though he was sick. “I’m not sure. It was a big job interview so I needed to go through that. I didn’t feel very well, but I pushed through it. I mean, some days on game day I might not feel good, but I’ve still got to play.”

His 40 time was about the same at Pro Day. He only ran the 40 once after tweaking his hamstring.

“I was trying to get in the 4.7 range, but that didn’t happen,” Barnett explains. “It’s not the end of the world.”

The 6-foot-3, 259-pound Barnett said NFL teams are looking at him as both a defensive end and outside linebacker, and the feedback he’s gotten has been “all positive.”

“There’s some 4-3 (defensive) teams looking at me and some 3-4 teams,” he says. “That’s why I went through the (linebacker) drills today. I felt comfortable doing so.”

Pro Day might be the last day these Vols work out together at UT, but it won’t be Barnett’s last visit to campus. It’s his second home.

“I’m going to come back,” Barnett adds. “I’m from Nashville, so this is my home. I’m going to come back and support my old teammates and coaching staff. It’s still my home.”

Here’s a glimpse from Pro Day of other former Vols as they await the NFL Draft:

Alvin Kamara

Running back, 5-10, 214 pounds, Norcross, Georgia

Kamara’s stock took a rise with a good showing at the scouting combine, and he knows there’s some buzz about him going into the draft.

It’s not an issue with Kamara.

“I don’t really feed into that too much,” he says. “I just go day by day. We’re on the 31st (of March), it’s Pro Day, so that’s what I’m in right now. I’m not really looking ahead, not looking back, just going day by day.”

Kamara was one of the nation’s top running backs out of Norcross High when he signed with Alabama, but hurt his knee in preseason, redshirted, was suspended for a game and left the team. After attending junior college, Kamara took advantage of a second chance with UT and flourished as a shifty tailback, receiver, and punt returner.

Kamara, who bypassed his senior year at UT in 2017, knows he’s on the NFL radar.

“It feels good, I guess, to say the least,” Kamara admits. “It’s just a journey. Everybody has their different journey, but I’ve got a story to tell. It definitely feels good to be here now working toward the goal I’ve always had.”

Kamara was a backup tailback to Jalen Hurd in 2015 and again in 2016 until Hurd quit the team. Kamara, however, also missed time with a knee injury in 2016, but still rushed for 596 yards, nine TDs, and caught 40 passes for 392 yards and four touchdowns. He scored 23 touchdowns in just 284 touches in two season with the Vols.

“A lot of teams talk about that (limited workload), with not having more than 15, 18 carries a game,” Kamara says. “I just tell them, ‘Up until that point, it was a question, and then when I got to 18 carries, it was a productive 18 carries.’ I tell you, I can carry the load. It’s just whoever wants to believe what I say.”

Joshua Dobbs

Quarterback, 6-3, 216 pounds, Alpharetta, Georgia

When the Vols beat Nebraska in the Dec. 30 Music City Bowl, Dobbs wasn’t nearly the NFL prospect he is today.

Dobbs had a great week at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, in January, followed it with a solid showing at the combine and then a big Pro Day.

Bob Welton, UT’s director of player personnel and former college scout for the Cleveland Browns, gave high praise to Dobbs for his Pro Day.

“I’ve been to a lot of workouts,” Welton notes. “That was the best quarterback workout I’ve ever seen. That was impressive, and I was really happy for him. He’s done everything he’s had to do since the end of the season to help himself.”

Dobbs was told of Welton’s comments by a reporter and asked about the momentum he’s gained since the Music City Bowl.

“It continues to grow,” Dobbs says. “From the Senior Bowl, putting together a great week down in Mobile, to going to the combine, to getting a chance to finally put faces with names and meet different guys across the league and get a chance to sit down and get a feel for them, and they get a feel for me, to then going out on the field and competing and having a great day on the field. I had a lot of fun, and I know my guys did as well.”

Asked if the NFL’s increased interest the past couple of months has validated him, Dobbs adds: “I don’t need validation. It’s about time, honestly, but I don’t need validation. I know my skills and abilities. I’ve shown it throughout my opportunities during this draft process. It’s been a lot of fun in that process. People are entitled to opinions, but that doesn’t mean they’re right at the end of the day.”

Dobbs may have been referencing the opinion he played in a spread-type offense at Tennessee and not under center as do traditional NFL quarterbacks.

Dobbs was one of UT’s players choosing not to run the 40-yard dash. He ran a 4.64-second 40 at the combine. On his final play of Pro Day, Dobbs threw a 50-yard pass to Josh Malone, one of many on-target passes for the day.

“I had a very efficient day both getting snaps under center and in the gun,” Dobbs explains. “I think I was able to show I can make all the throws on the field, whether it was short or intermediate balls, and also the deep throws with timing and rhythm with my guys.”

Dobbs had workouts for the Chargers, Saints, and Panthers prior to Pro Day.

“I’m sure they’ll be more,” he adds.

Dobbs is taking a light school workload of six hours in order to graduate in May with a degree in aerospace engineering. He’s 3-0 in bowl games at Tennessee, when he’s got extra time to prepare for a game and not worry about school. He’s ready for fulltime football.

“To be able to put my undivided attention to football and perfecting my craft for opportunities like this has been great,” Dobbs points out. “I’m excited to see what the next level, what my future holds when I’m able to just be a professional football player.”

Josh Malone

Receiver, 6-3, 208 pounds, Gallatin

After choosing to bypass his senior year at UT, Malone ran an eye-opening 4.40 in the 40-yard dash at the combine, and he had plenty of attention at Pro Day.

Most project Malone to be drafted in the third or fourth round. Malone, who’s got size and speed to be an NFL receiver, isn’t fretting over it.

“No, I have even talked to my agent about that,” Malone says. “I’ve just been focusing on showing what I can do on the field in the combine, and obviously, today on Pro Day. I felt like I did that.”

Malone did the same in 2016 when he led the Vols in catches (50), receiving yards (974) and TD catches (11). With that production and the speed show at the combine, Malone went to Pro Day wanting to show scouts he wasn’t just a possession receiver. He chose not to run the 40 at Pro Day, instead sticking with his combine time.

“I was happy about it,” Malone says of his 4.4 run at the combine. “But I kind of wanted it a little bit lower. I was expecting at least a low-4.3 or a mid-4.3, but 4.4 is still fast, and fast is fast.”

Malone was a big-time recruit when he came to UT. Rivals.com rated Malone a five star, the No. 2 wide receiver in the nation and the No. 2 prospect in Tennessee.

In his first two years, Malone caught 54 passes for 636 yards and three touchdowns – numbers he matched or surpassed as a junior. Now, he awaits to hear his name in the draft.

“I’m going to be one of the happiest men in the world,” Malone says. “I’m going to enjoy the moment, and when the next day comes, go ahead and snap down and start getting back to the workload and start getting ready for camp.”

Cameron Sutton

Cornerback, 5-11, 188 pounds, Jonesboro, Georgia.

Should Sutton have opted for the NFL Draft after his junior season in 2015? Perhaps. He entered his senior season one the few players in the SEC to have started every game in his career.

His run of starts ended when he fractured his ankle against Ohio in the third game of 2016. Sutton didn’t return as the starting left cornerback until the 11th game against Missouri, and he was hardly the same player.

Sutton, however, helped his draft stock at the Senior Bowl when he showed his versatility by playing all over the secondary.

“It was an opportunity that I didn’t get in school (at UT),” Sutton points out. “They needed me on the outside at the time. It gave me a chance to showcase that I’m not limiting myself to a cornerback, being able and open to play any position: safety, nickel, corner, dime, whatever the organization needs me to play. I feel like that (Senior Bowl) was a start for me, for teams to see me moving not just from the outside, but from the inside as well, and also tracking the ball from deep in the post as well.”

Sutton, who ran a 4.52 in the 40 at the combine, might get on the NFL field quickest as a punt returner; he had a career average of 14.9 yards on returns and three touchdowns.

He was happy with the process leading up to Pro Day.

“I don’t regret anything I’ve done,” Sutton adds. “I tested well. My field work and everything was good. Overall, it’s been a great experience for me, just coming out here and showing how versatile I am and moving around and showcasing the skills I have.”

Jalen Reeves-Maybin

Linebacker, 6-0, 230 pounds, Clarksville

Questions will linger about Reeves-Maybin’s shoulder injuries. He had offseason surgery before spring of 2016, and hurt his shoulder again in the third game of 2016 against Ohio.

Reeves-Maybin tried to play through the injury the next week against Florida, but wasn’t able. He had surgery last October by renowned Dr. James Andrews in Pensacola.

“That’s one of the biggest question marks on me right now is my injury and how I’m recovering,” Reeves-Maybin says. “But I’ve done a good job of rehabbing with my surgery and also my rehab both in Florida and here with our staff.”

Reeves-Maybin adds he’s been cleared by Andrews to do everything and is about 90 percent.

“I don’t have any limitations or anything right now,” Reeves-Maybin explains.

Like Sutton, Reeves-Maybin entered his senior year at UT amid plenty of hype. He was chosen to several All-SEC and All-American teams after his junior year, when he started all 13 games and led the team in tackles with 105.

Reeves-Maybin, who only did linebacker drills at the combine, said he met with numerous teams Thursday before Pro Day and in previous weeks. He’s confident he will be drafted.

“I wish I would go first,” Reeves-Maybin says, smiling. “I don’t really have a prediction. I’m not really too worried about it. I want to go as high as I can, but wherever I go, I feel comfortable I’ll be able to find my role and succeed on the field.”

Dave Link is a freelance journalist living in Knoxville.