Unlike Kyle Phillips, Darrin Kirkland Jr. has been the player to explode onto the scene in this new 3-4 system through two weeks into the season. Tennessee football’s transition was supposed to be rough on the inside linebackers, but given Kirkland’s intelligence and talents, he was one guy who could clearly offset it.
Coming off of a season-ending injury last year and almost leaving the program in the offseason, the junior linebacker has become maybe the best defensive player for the team. He had multiple tackles for losses and led the team in overall tackles in the Vols’ opener. Then, last week, he made his presence felt with minimal action, notching four tackles and a pick-six.
This week, Kirkland has another huge role to play. We already mentioned UTEP giving up lots of sacks. Well, when those sacks aren’t coming from defensive ends, they will be coming from linebackers. On top of that, the Miners have thrown three interceptions on the year, one of which was to a linebacker.
This makes sense if you pay attention to the offensive schemes Dimel ran the past near-decade at Kansas State. It puts a lot on the linebackers to make plays. And with the talent he’s got right now, it simply gives the linebackers lots of chances to mae plays.
So this is where Kirkland comes in. Just like last week, he should be able to make a huge splash before he’s pulled, assuming he is pulled. Everything is in play for him to make another huge splash for the Vols, and that’s why he’s worth paying attention to.