Freshmen at a disadvantage for playing time? Pruitt says no; numbers prove he plays plenty

Vols HC Jeremy Pruitt / Credit: 99.1 The Sports Animal

By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports

A common narrative about college football, since the sports shutdown, is that it will be harder than usual this season for true freshmen to earn playing time or starting positions.

No spring practice. No typical summer strength and conditioning program. No chance to be on-campus and adjust to college life like every other year. All makes sense to limit the freshmen, right?

Jeremy Pruitt’s been asked about this topic by our own Jimmy Hyams and most recently by the Vol Network’s Bob Kesling. Both of his responses were similar. He doesn’t think it’s true at UT.

Here’s Pruitt’s latest quote on the Tennessee freshmen with Bob:

“We’ve got really good teachers on our staff. They’ve got great teaching progressions. The way we install, the way we teach concepts, I don’t see any problem with a young guy having the opportunity and the knowledge to be able to step in and compete right away.”

Pruitt has also shown a real willingness to play freshmen, especially last season. In fact, the 2019 season freshmen totals are impressive when you lay them out. Here are the freshmen playing numbers in Pruitt’s first two seasons as the University of Tennessee’s head football coach.

Tennessee Freshmen Totals Under Pruitt
Total Freshmen Played:                   18 (2019) / 12 (2018)
Did Not Play:                                    1 (2019) / 4 (2018)
Games Played:                                153 (2019) / 86 (2018)
Starts:                                              47 (2019) / 25 (2018)
Started At Least One Game:            8 (2019) / 4 (2018)
Started At Least Half The Games:   4 (2019) / 3 (2018)
Played Every Game:                        5 (2019) / 4 (2018)
Redshirted:                                       6 (2019) / 9 (2018)

2019 Tennessee Freshmen (19)
(Games Played/Starts)
LB Henry To’oto’o – 13/12
OT Wanya Morris – 13/12
S Jaylen McCollough – 13/6
LB Quavaris Crouch – 13/1
RB Eric Gray – 13/1
WR Ramel Keyton – 12/0
OL Darnell Wright – 11/7
OLB Roman Harrison – 11/0
DB Kenney Solomon – 10/0
CB Warren Burrell – 9/4
LB/DB Aaron Beasley – 9/0
QB Brian Maurer – 8/4
DB/WR Jerod Means – 5/0 (transferred)
S Tyus Fields – 4/0 *
DL Elijah Simmons – 3/0 *
OL Chris Akporoghene – 2/0 *
OL Jackson Lampley – 2/0 *
TE Sean Brown – 2/0 *
TE Jackson Lowe – DNP *
*Redshirted

2018 Tennessee Freshmen (16)
(Games Played/Starts)
CB Bryce Thompson – 12/10
CB Alontae Taylor – 12/8
OL James Carvin – 12/6
P Paxton Brooks – 12/0
RB/LB Jeremy Banks – 11/0 (No longer with the program)
S Trevon Flowers – 7/1
DL John Mincey – 5/0
LB JJ Peterson – 4/0 *
DL Kurott Garland – 4/0 *
WR Cedric Tillman – 4/0 *
DL Kingston Harris – 2/0 *
DL Greg Emerson – 1/0 *
QB JT Shrout – DNP *
TE Jacob Warren – DNP *
DB Brandon Davis – DNP *
OL Ollie Lane – DNP *
*Redshirted

Vince’s View: This should erase any doubt that Jeremy Pruitt plays the best players, regardless of class. That’s something Nick Saban does at Alabama despite all their 5-stars. Pruitt would rather have a talented young athlete on the field that can erase bad plays than a less talented older player that knows what their supposed to do, but can’t make as many plays.

A combined 9 true freshmen have played all games their freshmen campaigns. 7 players have started at least half the games their freshman seasons in Pruitt’s first two seasons combined. The trend of Pruitt playing more and more true freshmen is about the staff’s increasing comfort in their classes the more they have evaluation time to bring in the right guys. I think the trend of playing lots true freshmen continues.

There are 4 more true freshmen currently than 2019. That means we could see perhaps 6 play every game. So which ones will do it? Here’s the list below. Decide for yourself.

2020 Tennessee True Freshmen (23)
(Highest Star Rating – Average Star Rating)
QB Harrison Bailey   (5 – 4)
QB Jimmy Holiday   (3 – 3)
RB Len’Neth Whitehead   (4 – 4)
RB Tee Hodge   (3 – 3)
RB Jabari Small   (3 – 3)
WR Jalin Hyatt   (4 – 4)
WR Malachi Wideman   (4 – 4)
WR Jimmy Calloway   (4 – 4)
WR Dee Beckwith   (4 – 3)
OL Cooper Mays   (4 – 4)
OL James Robinson   (3 – 3)
OL Javontez Spraggins   (3 – 3)
DL Dominic Bailey   (4 – 4)
DL Omari Thomas   (4 – 4)
DL RJ Perry   (3 – 3)
OLB Morven Joseph   (4 – 4)
OLB Martavius French   (4 – 4)
ILB Bryson Eason   (4 – 4)
OLB Tyler Baron   (4 – 4)
DB Keshawn Lawrence   (4 – 4)
DB Tamarion McDonald   (4 – 4)
DB Doneiko Slaughter   (4 – 3)
LS Will Albright   (2 – 2)

By the way, if you’re wondering why the freshmen classes above in this post aren’t larger, it’s because the other players not listed were either medically retired true freshmen that didn’t play or JUCOs that aren’t true freshmen.

Find more of my broadcasting work at VinceSports.net.

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