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Most Important Vol: Kentucky

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Our writing staff makes its picks for this week's most important player.

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Will Shelton - Corey Vereen

What in the world was that and where did it come from?  Vereen was a nice story two years ago as a freshman before Curt Maggitt returned from a torn ACL and the Vols signed Derek Barnett, changing the landscape at defensive end and making Vereen an afterthought.  When Maggitt went out this year, Vereen didn't exactly pick up the slack:  he had nine combined tackles against Bowling Green and Oklahoma, then just six in the next four games.  And then all of a sudden, against the vaunted Crimson Tide, he gets career highs in solo tackles (4), tackles for loss (2.5), and sacks (2, his first of the year).  I don't know what that was, but I'd like to see it again.

I_S -- Justin Martin

Martin looks like he's taken the CB #2 job, and while he didn't play a bad game in Tuscaloosa, Alabama's WR #2 was a big factor, as has been an issue for the Vols defense all season. No time like the present to start winning that battle, and if the Vols can do that this week, it eliminates arguably the most exploitable hole on defense and makes it that much harder for Kentucky to spring the upset.

Hunter Turner -- Chance Hall

Tennessee's offensive line has played reasonably well the last weeks, despite starting freshmen Jack Jones at right guard and Chance Hall at right tackle. For the most part, the two talented young offensive linemen have been mistake-free, bringing increased athleticism and an edge of nastiness to the Vols' offense. Unfortunately, Hall's promising start came to a crashing halt when Tennessee could least afford it-- Alabama outside linebacker Ryan Anderson beat Hall with a speed rush to the outside and strip-sacked quarterback Josh Dobbs on the Vols' final drive, ending any hope for a Tennessee comeback (if that script sounds familiar, well, go back and watch Jadaveon Clowney beat Tiny Richardson to seal South Carolina's win over Tennessee a few years ago-- we can only hope Hall is anywhere close to as good as Tiny). Now, Kentucky isn't in the same neighborhood as Alabama, talent-wise, but the Wildcats are still a solid, well-coached team. Tennessee can't afford turnovers or poor blocking along the offensive line, so Hall needs to get his mind right and be ready to play on Saturday.

Nathanael Rutherford - Derek Barnett

Where has the Derek Barnett who showed up against Alabama been all season? Wherever he's been, it would be nice if he stuck around for the remainder of the season because the Vols will need him. That especially holds true for this weekend against Kentucky when the Vols will face a quarterback who likes to run and can evade defenders more easily than most. Barnett has earned a sack for two straight games for the Vols, and he'll need to either get one or help garner enough pressure to allow his teammates to get sacks against Kentucky. The Wildcats can pose a major threat to Tennessee's secondary if Patrick Towels can remain clean in the pocket without duress. A good pass rush benefits Tennessee's secondary more than anything, and that pass rush starts with the Vols' best player on the defensive line.

Charlie Burris - Alvin Kamara

It seems like every time Alvin Kamara touches the football he makes a dynamic play and he simply doesn't touch the football enough. I honestly believe Tennessee could beat Kentucky without Kamara but the main reason I think he will be the key cog on Saturday is that I just want to see him get more reps. His performance in Saturday in Tuscaloosa (65 yards of offense on 9 touches) against maybe the best defense in America is evidence enough that he needs to get a bigger role. In addition to top notch playmaking ability, Kamara has made himself a team leader and that's huge for a kid who's had discipline problems bad enough to be dismissed from Alabama. I'm obviously not on the sidelines, but for the life of me, I can't figure out why Alvin Kamara doesn't get in the game more often. Let the kid play, Butch. Please. If for no other reason than sparing Jalen Hurd and protecting him from injury. #FreeKamara