KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee football head coach Jeremy Pruitt is excited to see the Vols’ young players “turn loose” in the first scrimmage of the 2019 season.
Tennessee held its eighth practice of fall camp on Saturday at Haslam Field. The Vols practiced in shells for a little over an hour with the scrimmage inside Neyland Stadium scheduled for Sunday.
“They need to be thrown out there and turned loose and see what they’re going to do, cause you don’t know what you got until to you go out there and do that,” said Pruitt about the scrimmage. “The way the rules are now you don’t get an opportunity to take them to the ground in a full-scale practice but a few times. It will be interesting because coaches aren’t out there with them. When things don’t go the right way, how’s the team going to respond? Is anyone going to have a positive impact on the folks around them?”
UT returns 18 starters for Pruitt’s second season on Rocky Top. However, the Vols still lack proven depth at several positions and the influx of back-to-back blue chip recruiting classes has young players pushing veterans at nearly every position.
The coaching staff will be looking to see who it can rely on in live game-like situations.
“I’ve seen guys that are really good drill players, may be okay during the team stuff in practice, but when they get to the stadium they disappear,” Pruitt said. “I’ve seen guys that have been good at both of them (drill and team exercises) that get to the stadium and disappear. I’ve never seen one that wasn’t good over here (at the practice field) that gets good over there (at the stadium). It’ll be interesting to see if the guys who’ve had really good camps so far, how they respond when they get to the stadium to get an opportunity to scrimmage.”
Callaway Paces Receivers
Senior wide receiver Marquez Callaway is Tennessee’s leading returning receiver with 37 receptions for 592 yards and two touchdowns a year ago. The Warner Robins, Ga., native has emerged as one of the SEC’s top playmakers over his career with seven career scoring grabs to go along with a pair of punt return touchdowns. His career 13.4 yards-per-punt-return average is the best of any active player in the FBS.
“He’s a good special teams player, he’s a good leader,” Pruitt said. “You’d love to have a team full of guys like Marquez.”
The Vols also return redshirt senior Jauan Jennings, seniors Brandon Johnson and Tyler Byrd and junior Josh Palmer to one of the SEC’s most-experienced wide receiver corps.
Jennings has 87 receptions for 1,184 yards and 10 touchdowns in his career, but battled injuries in 2018 and missed all but one half with a wrist injury in 2017.
Johnson was Tennessee’s leading receiver with 37 grab for 482 yards in 2017, while Byrd has 19 catches and two touchdowns in his career.
Palmer is arguably the most explosive player of the bunch. The Brampton, Ontario, native led the SEC in yards per catch (21.0) a year ago. He totaled 23 receptions for 484 yards and two touchdowns in 2018, adding a 20-yard scoring rush, too.
Head Coach Jeremy Pruitt Press Conference Transcript – Aug. 10
“We had two really good back-to-back practices here the last couple of days. It seems like the energy is there. We’ve kind of got three groups of players. We’ve got guys that know what to do, they have experience and they kind of know how to play. We’ve got guys that know how to play, know what to do, but they don’t have any experience. And then we’ve got a group of guys that have the ability, but they have yet to learn what to do. Our coaches are doing a really good job pushing these guys and getting them there. It’ll be interesting tomorrow when we scrimmage to see where some of these guys are at.”
On figuring out the starting offensive line:
“I don’t think we’re anywhere close to finding the first group of five. I think we’ve got an idea of who the 10 or 11 guys there that we’re working. We’ve worked several combinations and it’s been good for the group. We’ve had several guys that have put a couple of good practices together but we’re looking for consistency with the entire group, so we’ve got good competition there.”
On the progression of freshmen quarterbacks J.T. Shrout and Brian Maurer:
“I think both guys need experience. They’ve both got really good arm talent. Brian (Maurer) can run around really well, probably when the play breaks down he can extend and hurt you a little bit with his feet there. They’ve got to quit throwing the ball to the other team. They’ve got to take command of the offense when they’re out there. They’ve got to understand situational football. We’re throwing a lot at them and both of them are doing a really good job competing every day, and they’ve created a lot of plays – both of them have. We just got to continue to coach them up and they’ve got to continue working hard to improve every single day.”
On the depth of the defensive line and the status of DL John Mincey:
“I don’t know what it says as much about the defensive line. We have 11 guys out there and there’s not much difference in any of them. If you look there’s three guys that are playing defensive line that were in the program before we got here: Matthew Butler, LaTrell Bumphus, who was playing tight end, and (Ja’Qauin) Blakely. Last year Blakely played fullback and LaTrell played tight end, so they’ve not been there very long [and] all the rest of the guys are new, so there wasn’t a whole lot here when we got here. The guys that played for us last year were seniors and they did a really good job. And then Emmit (Gooden) played some last year, those were really our four best defensive linemen. The guys that are here have good ability, they just got to raise their game. They’ve got to be exposed to new things every single day, and we’ve done that with them. You ask about John Mincey, he’s had a little bit of a lower leg injury, just kind of where we’ve held him out the last couple of days just getting him ready for tomorrow, so he’ll be fine.”
On the progress of the tight ends:
“There are a few guys there at the position. Dom (Wood-Anderson) is a little bit further ahead than the other guys. We have two freshmen, one who was here in the spring and one who was not, in Jackson Lowe and Sean Brown. Princeton Fant is a guy who has bounced around a bit who has good athletic ability, but he’s got to figure out what to do and be consistent every day in practice. He’s improved in doing that and creating the right practice habits. You’ve got Andrew Craig, a guy that played a little bit for us last year at times. He’s worked hard in the camp. Also, Austin Pope. We’ve got guys there. We just have to continue to grow and develop at that position and I think our guys are working hard every day to do that.”
On what he is looking for in the team’s first scrimmage on Sunday at Neyland Stadium:
“To start with, offensively it starts up front. We’re looking for guys that don’t make mental mistakes and don’t beat themselves – guys that know what they’re supposed to do. We’re going to keep the calls simple on both sides of the ball to give the guys a chance to have success playing with the right temperament, playing ‘til the whistle blows, being consistent. Things aren’t always going to go their way, so how do they handle adversity? Who can sustain? Who can finish?
Defensively, we have a lot of really young players. They need to be thrown out there and turned loose and see what they’re going to do, because you don’t know what you got until to you go out there and do that. The way the rules are now you don’t get an opportunity to take them to the ground in a full-scale practice but a few times. It will be interesting because coaches aren’t out there with them. When things don’t go the right way, how’s the team going to respond? Is anyone going to have a positive impact on the folks around them?
It’s always guys that have been really good up to this point, I’ve seen them disappear at the scrimmages. I’ve seen guys that are really good drill players, may be okay during the team stuff in practice, but when they get to the stadium they disappear. I’ve seen guys that have been good at both of them (drill and team exercises) that get to the stadium and disappear. I’ve never seen one that wasn’t good over here (at the practice field) that gets good over there (at the stadium). It’ll be interesting to see if the guys who’ve had really good camps so far, how they respond when they get to the stadium to get an opportunity to scrimmage.”
On what to expect from a tackling and physicality standpoint on defense and where the team is in terms of development:
“We’re improved. We’re definitely improved. We’ve got to do a better job of communicating to give ourselves a chance right now because of lack of experience. Daniel Bituli is a guy that really has done a nice job quarterbacking the defense a little bit, but when you look up front there’s hardly any of those guys that’ve played. Darrell Taylor has played a lot of ball. Deandre Johnson played a little bit at the end of the year last year. At the secondary, you’ve got Alontae (Taylor) and Bryce (Thompson) and Nigel (Warrior). Alontae and Bryce played as freshmen, but how well did they play? There’s a certain standard that we’re trying to get to. These guys understand what that standard is. We’ll see. We’ll see when we go out there.”
On the improvement of the team’s inexperienced players:
“You want to see everybody improve. You hope everybody gets better every single day. It’s kind of where you’re at. You’ve got to challenge the guys. You’ve got to point it out to them and then they’ve got to respond. We’re doing that. I’ve talked about our coaching staff. They’re a great group of teachers. We’ve got a lot of guys that need to be coached. We do have some guys on one side, especially on the offense at wide receiver when you talk about Jauan (Jennings), (Marquez) Callaway, (Josh) Palmer, Dom (Wood-Anderson), Jarrett (Guarantano) – there’s guys – Ty (Chandler), that have experience. Then the guys right after them, there’s not a whole lot of experience there. Then you look up front. Those guys have played a lot of ball, but it’s not been the type of ball that we need to play. We’ve got to improve there, obviously.
On OL Jahmir Johnson fitting in the offense:
“You know, we’ve played him at left tackle, we’ve played him at left guard, we’ve done that with Wanya (Morris), we’ve moved the guys around a lot. There’s nothing to that.”
On if Jahmir Johnson could play right guard:
“Well, I guess you can. I would say there’s probably a difference in the sets, you probably could get more comfortable on one side than the other. I would think that if you can play one side, with a little bit of work, you could probably play the other side.”
On WR Marquez Callaway:
“I think Marquez (Callaway) runs really well, he does. He’s worked hard about getting off releases and finishing, high pointing the football because he’s got a lot of length there. As many good catches as he’s made, extending in the air to get them, there’s probably been a lot that he’d like to have back, so being consistent there. He’s a good special teams player, he’s a good leader. You’d love to have a team full of guys like Marquez.”
On if there is a difference in spirits between the team three weeks out now and last year:
“I don’t think there’s any reason to compare where we’re at right now to last year. It’s not going to have any impact on where this team is going. I think the big thing is to focus on this team. Like I said, we’ve had several good practices in a row. We’ve had two really good practices. I like the energy. When you’re not having to coach effort, the guys are policing themselves, it allows you to be a coach and coach the details and fundamentals. That has been fun to do. We are improving.”
On Eric Gray:
“You know, Eric is very mature. When you watch him practice and go about his business, he gets it the first time. He learns from other people’s mistakes. He’s got really good ball skills, good vision, he’s a good competitor, he jumps out there and is very mature when it comes to football playing abilities. We’re excited about him. I think he’s had a really good camp so far. Again, this will be a guy who has been really good in the drills, really good in practice, so we’ll see how he does when we get over to the stadium, so looking forward to seeing that.”