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Freshman cornerback Warren Burrell is pushing for playing time, draws praise of Jeremy Pruitt

There’s been a lot of talk about Burrell lately.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: APR 13 Tennessee Orange & White Game Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

An unexpected surprise of fall camp to this point has been the buzz around freshman cornerback Warren Burrell, who has been getting a few reps with the first team defense. Joining the roster with established starters Alontae Taylor and Bryce Thompson, Burrell’s path to playing time appeared to be roadblocked. However, a strong camp to this point could put him in a position to push those two sophomores for playing time.

“Bryce and Alontae played because they were the best players here,” Jeremy Pruitt said on Tuesday. “Both of those guys have a long way to go to improve as football players. I think both of them have a really good skillset to play the position. They’re different. And they work hard — they like ball. So they’ve got a chance to be good football players down the road. Right now, they’ve still got a ways to go.”

By now you know the story. Pruitt took two four-star athletes without too much experience on the defensive side of the ball and turned them into starting cornerbacks for the 2018 season. It was a bumpy road, but both guys showed a lot of upside, giving Tennessee fans confidence heading into the 2019 season.

The Tennessee staff was able to add depth in the 2019 class, which included three-star cornerback Warren Burrell and four-star cornerback Tyus Fields. With Fields working with the safeties, Burrell has been the guy pushing Taylor and Thompson.

“It’s good that Warren’s here, because he creates competition,” Pruitt said. “Warren has done a good job. Does he need to get stronger? Absolutely. Does he need to improve his play at the line of scrimmage? He does. But the guy’s got ball skills, he’s smart, he’s coachable, he’s instinctive and he plays with toughness. When you go out and play, he always shows up. Is he perfect? No, but he’s a freshman. I’m glad he’s here to compete with those guys.”

Pruitt and defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley have some shuffling to do with the uncertainty around senior defensive back Baylen Buchanan, who started 12 games in Tennessee’s “Star” position last season. The potential absence of Buchanan doesn’t directly affect the outside corners, but it’s another blow to the Volunteers depth, which means Burrell becomes that much more important.

Burrell was ranked as the 527th overall player in the 2019 class, according to 247 Sports. Tennessee beat out Florida for the 6-0, 176 pound corner, pulling him out of Suwanee, Georgia. Just months later, Burrell appears set to be at least the third cornerback in the rotation — if not more.