Experience, Depth Key As Vols Open Spring Football Practice

Credit: UT Athletics

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Football is back in Tennessee as the Volunteers opened spring practice with the first of 15 workouts on a rainy Tuesday afternoon at Haslam Field. Head coach Jeremy Pruitt put the squad through a two-plus hour workout in helmets and shorts, focusing on all three phases in the wet conditions.

Pruitt stressed the importance of his team having depth and familiarity with the third year in his system.

“You can tell that it’s the third year in the system. You can tell that we’ve got a lot of guys returning. There weren’t a whole lot of mistakes, so that’s good to see and we can really coach fundamentals.

“We have more numbers at every position. This will be the first time in three seasons that we will be at 85 scholarships.”

The Vols will practice again Thursday before taking off for spring break. Spring practice culminates with the Chevrolet Orange & White Spring Game on Saturday, April 18 at 4 p.m. ET in Neyland Stadium. Admission and parking is free.

Season tickets for the 2020 Tennessee campaign are on sale now at AllVols.com and start as low as $300. Season tickets can also be purchased by calling (865) 946-7000. The Vol Pass also is returning for the 2020 football season. A great option for fans interested in experiencing Neyland Stadium from a different vantage point each game, those interested in learning more about the Vol Pass are encouraged to call (865) 946-7000.

Below is a transcript from Pruitt’s Tuesday night media session:

Opening Statement:

“It was exciting to get back out there on the grass. I felt like we had a lot of enthusiasm, and we should. We’ve got a lot of returning guys with lots of experience. Everybody seems to know where they’re supposed to be. Obviously, we’ve had some turnover with coaches, and it was exciting for me to see these guys out here on the grass. I thought they did a fantastic job. We’ve talked about on both sides of the ball, the No. 1 priority this spring has got to be the ball, on both sides. Starting offensively, securing the football, from quarterback-center exchanges to hand-offs to making decisions, securing the football, whether it’s at wide receiver, quarterback, running back, tight end, or in the kicking game. Defensively, if you get a turnover, secure the football. We’ve got to get more turnovers on defense. That has to be a priority this spring, especially when you talk about fumbles. We did not get nearly enough last year, so that’s got to be a focus for us. I felt like the kids had a great attitude out there today. You can tell that it’s the third year in the system. You can tell that we’ve got a lot of guys returning. There weren’t a whole lot of mistakes, so that’s good to see and we can really coach fundamentals. We’re trying to slow it down this spring as far as installs. We’re making sure that we teach concepts and have a really good understanding of what we’re doing, and I thought our guys did a nice job with that. We have to do a really good job this spring in the kicking game. Losing our snapper last year was a big deal. You don’t worry about that until you don’t have one, so we’ve got lots of competition in that area. It was a great day to be out there. It was wet. We had a lot of rain during practice, so we had a chance to handle the ball in some adverse situations, so that’s good for us and it should help us down the road. When you look at our guys, you can see in this offseason, the growth, I think our strength staff has done a fantastic job getting these guys ready for spring ball. You can see it without guys with just how their bodies have changed over the course of the last year. We’ve got to continue to work hard in the weight room during spring. We’ve got 15 practice. One is down, but you really kind of have a window of about 30 to 35 days here, where we really have to improve and do a good job in our teaching progressions. We’ve got to do a great job correcting in the film room, and in the teaching progressions, setting the table for 11-on-11, and it’s something that, offensively, you need 11-on-11. Defensively, you can do a whole lot of drills and get to that point and build a little more slowly, but to me, offensively, you’ve got to be able to function as a unit, and that’s something that we’ve got to get lots of reps in. With the quarterback position, being able to go two-spot and having enough bodies to practice efficiently with four groups is going to help us there as far as getting reps. There’s good competition there, all of those guys got lots of reps today, so that’s good to see. One thing that I wanted to say before I even started here is that we had a tragedy last week in Nashville, in Middle Tennessee with the tornado and the victims involved. There’s nothing that I can say that can take it all back, but we had some kids on our team that knew people that were affected, and it affected people in our state. Unfortunately, there was some loss of life there, and it makes you appreciate just how important your family is and being thankful for the opportunities that we have every day. That’s something that our kids have really been focused on with trying to be involved in some way with helping the victims, and that’s something that we’ll continue to do.”

On if there’s a different feeling with it being his third season here …

“I believe it was obvious that we do have some experience. When you compare the last two (seasons), we’re further along now, which we should be with the experience that we have coming back. I think our kids are excited to be back out there, and we’ve had a great offseason. Guys have worked really hard, Coach Fitz (Craig Fitzgerald) and his guys have done a fantastic job with helping them grow, get stronger, and change their bodies, and getting them ready to practice. So, I felt like we were in really good condition today for the first day, and I felt like as the practice went, the stronger we got.”

On Jimmy Brumbaugh coming here and what he saw from him today …

“Jimmy is a guy that I’ve known for a long time. When he was playing at Auburn, we played against each other, and he’s a guy that has really grown in the profession with the work that he’s done at every stop along the way. He’s a great teacher and motivator. You kind of know what you’re getting in him every single day. You can see it out here when I’ve sat in meetings with him with how he teaches. I think he’s really hands-on and he brings a lot of knowledge at that position having played that position. He really is the style of defensive line coach that we’re looking for. When we had the job come open, we didn’t interview anybody else. We didn’t interview him. We just offered him the job and he came.”

On having consistency at the offensive coordinator position …

“Well the longer you do something, the better you should be at it. I felt like as the season went, we played a little cleaner. We didn’t turn the ball over as much and that is something that we need to build on this offseason. We have a lot of players coming back. We lost a lot of really good players also, so we have some holes to fill there. When it comes to terminology, understanding expectations, I feel like with Jim (Chaney) and this offensive staff being here this second time around, we are further ahead than we were this time last year. We have to continue to get better every single day. There needs to be a lot of growth on the offensive side. If they continue to give the effort in the meeting rooms and on the field, we will get there.”

On the consistency at the strength coach position …

“I can’t say enough about Craig and his guys and what they have done over the last three years. Our guys continue to get bigger, stronger, develop discipline and a lot of mental toughness. In the offseason, Craig is a guy that is in high demand. That is no secret. There have been several jobs that have been open across our league and Craig was the first guy that they called. He decided to stay here. He is in demand because he is good at what he does.”

On the development of the players in his third year …

“We have more numbers at every position. This will be the first time in three seasons that we will be at 85 scholarships. Obviously, that helps. My first spring, we might have had five scholarship offensive linemen. We moved guys over there, but we have some depth there. On both sides in the interior, we are obviously a lot bigger than we were the first year. These guys have to develop and learn to play together and create the right habits. We have competition here, so that should be good moving forward.”

On Cooper Mays not practicing today …

“Unfortunately, Cooper broke his foot last fall. He probably played the entire high school season with a stress fracture that got worse as the season went. He had to have a procedure done when he first got here. He is not going to be able to participate this spring. It is unfortunate for him, because he is a guy that we are expecting to compete. He is a tough guy that we targeted early in the recruiting process and we feel like he plays the right way. He is learning. He understands the situation and he has to take mental reps.”

On the quarterback competition this spring …

“From the quarterback standpoint, the first thing to me is when you play the position and your team has the ball, how does the drive end. We might throw it 15 times or we might run it 15 times. What is the end result? Part of being a quarterback is getting the other 10 guys to be at their best. Lots of times we get hung up on their stats. A lot of that affects some of that. Does every possession end in a kick? That is what we need to do. If we do that we have a chance to have success.”

On players having limitations during practice this spring …

“We have several guys that their practices will be modified a little bit during spring. Baylen (Buchanan) and Emmit’s (Gooden) practices will be modified. Emmit is probably ready to go, but six months for an ACL seems too soon for me. He will do a lot of things in a controlled environment. We have several guys like that. The fact that they can practice in certain scenarios gives them the chance to grow and develop as a player.”

On the quarterback reps …

“I think that Jarrett (Guarantano) has played a lot of ball. If you look over the last half of the year, Jarrett did a lot of really good things to help us win football games. J.T. did some things in the South Carolina game and in the UAB game that helped us win. Brian showed some promise at times. All of these guys are going to continue to improve. We have good competition there. Jarrett is a guy that has played a lot of ball. When you look at all three of those guys, there are a lot of positives that they do. We have to eliminate a few mistakes that we made last year. With another year in the system, that is something that we are working on. We have a couple other quarterbacks in that room. Harrison Bailey, Jimmy Holiday, Kasim Hill, they are taking the same amount of reps too. We have to figure out who our first, second and third quarterback is. They will have a chance to do that throughout the spring. That’s for every position. In this business, you’re only as good as your last game, whether you are a coach or a player. There always needs to be competition so everyone will be at their best.”

On the quarterback competition as it progresses …

“Well the plan right now is to rep six guys. If there is a point in time where we feel like someone eliminates themselves, we would go down. We are going to continue to work in four groups. There are going to be a lot of opportunities to throw and create some chemistry on the offensive side of the ball. We practice like that in our scrimmages so these guys will have plenty of opportunities.”

On Brian Niedermeyer coaching linebackers …

“That’s one of the positions that we don’t have a lot of depth at this spring. Brian is a guy that has worked with me at a couple of spots. Really, when we came here, he is probably a defensive guy. He can coach any position, but I think he’s very bright, he understands what we are doing on that side of the ball, he understands the importance of the inside backers being signal-callers. Whether you’re counting inside backer or outside backers, there’s four or five guys that aren’t here yet that will fall into that mix and create some depth and competition as fall camp gets here.”

On Jordan Allen’s transition to tight end …

“Jordan is a guy who has a unique story, really. He was a high school wide receiver/tight end and signed in that position. He ended up going to a junior college and converted to an outside linebacker/defensive end. He only played the position one year. When he got here, if you talked to him, he’d probably played a lot more offense in his life than he has defense. We worked him at outside linebacker and felt like he had some promise there. With his injury that he had last year, just talking to us, he wanted to move to the offensive side of the ball and we know he has a skill set there. We need some depth there so it just made sense.”

On J.J. Peterson’s off season and expectation for him …

“Well this is a big spring for J.J. He missed summer and fall camp of his freshman year. He really missed last spring and summer so this is the first time he’s really getting the ABC’s of it. It’s a big spring for him and you can see the growth. He’s learning and has more confidence. He just needs to get out there and compete and play ball and give himself an opportunity to have success.”

 

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