"I have been watching Tennessee film since we knew we were going to have to play them in the SEC Championship," Graves explains. "You know it is a very important game and we are going to prepare to the best of our abilities because we know preparation is the key to winning the game. So, watching film is going to be very important because we have already played them and we can get a feel for what they are going to do."
The former Holt High tailback adds that although he is excited about getting to start for the second game in a row, he is also somber in a way. "Once again I will be playing for myself and for AT (Antarrious Williams)," Graves says. "He is out and he is a really good friend of mine. He talks to me on the sidelines a lot, and we still talk a lot. After the Alabama game I had mixed emotions because I am kind of happy that I am starting, but sad because he is hurt. We are losing a good player.
"It is a big deal for me because it is a big game and once again my teammates are going to put their trust in me and the coaches are going to put their trust in me to start," the senior continues. "Hopefully, I can live up to the best of my abilities and not let them down."
Graves' position coach Joe Whitt says that the Tigers' linebackers will look about the same with Graves taking over for Williams. "It is sort of an ironic situation, I have got a bunch of guys that are very, very similar so there is not a lot of difference in those guys," Whitt says. "Derrick has played for the last two years and played both sam (strongside linebacker) and will (weakside linebacker) so he has played both and those guys are very similar."
The coach also notes that he is excited to have such an experienced player stepping in for his injured starter. "It is just super," he says about having a senior ready to take Williams' place. "It is a great feeling because you don't miss a beat. You go right ahead--all the guys on our team have confidence in him and that is a great thing."
Derrick Graves got his first start of the season against Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium only minutes away from where he attended high school in Tuscaloosa.
Graves adds that his position coach has been a driving force behind the tough mentality and strong play of the linebackers this season. "Coach Whitt always tells me that we have to be smart because what we lack in size we have to make up for in smartness," he notes. "We have worked really hard at being smart, using our eyes, being able to get to the ball and tackling as a group--not leaving one person out on an island by himself to have to make the tackle. So, I think we use our eyes pretty good and we play pretty smart. I mean, we have just got good coaches, we play as a group and we are a family."
The senior also says that that family atmosphere has not only applied to each position as a group, but to the entire team as well.
"It used to be offense did everything and defense did everything," Graves explains. "Now we are all like--while we are playing the offense is up cheering us on and while they are out there we are up cheering them on so it is more of a team concept. It feels good to see the offense--seeing them on the sideline while we are out there. It feels pretty good to know that we have got a little backup."
With the SEC Championship hanging in the balance on Saturday, Graves says that he and his teammates believe that nothing that has happened to this point is going to affect the outcome of Saturday's game. "Anybody can beat anybody in the SEC, and what happens in the past is in the past," the linebacker contends. "We know that they are going to come out ready to play us. We are going to get their best shot and hopefully we can give our best shot."
Graves says that he believes the key to giving the Vols that best shot on Saturday is a to concentrate heavily on learning the game plan and execution of the game plan. "We are just going to focus--not really focus on Tennessee a lot, but we are going to focus on ourselves," Graves explains. "Get Auburn prepared to play because if we don't know ourselves then there isn't any sense in going in and playing."