Transcript: Jeremy Pruitt Saturday interview after practice 10

Vols HC Jeremy Pruitt / Credit: UT Athletics

Jeremy Pruitt Press Conference
Saturday, Sept. 5

Opening Statement…

“We had a scrimmage slated for today, really had one slated for Wednesday, and were going to back it up today, but we didn’t scrimmage. Got way too many guys out. We’ve got 44 players that didn’t practice today, and they hadn’t practiced for the last three or four practices. So just didn’t think that was wise to scrimmage and went with a normal practice – only got 30 offensive players that were able to practice. We really focused on two groups and still had a lot of situational football and had a chance to work short yardage, red area, some third down, so got some good work in on special teams.

“It’s just something that we’re going through. Obviously, as we ramp up the testing we’ve had a few more positives, which that’s going to happen. Really the big issue for us is the contact tracing and that’s where we’ve had tons of players, to be exact to this date, we’ve had 48 guys who’ve missed at least 14 days who were quarantined. Four of those guys have been quarantined twice. So we’re talking about 52 guys in that. Some of the guys who were in quarantine self-reported. They were around somebody with COVID and in the testing it ended up showing up that they have it. The other 50 guys, we’ve had 1 out of 50 that has eventually tested positive for COVID. So we’re trying to get through the contact tracing. You know when a guy misses 14 days of practice or 14 days of training, starting over is kind of having a cumulative effect a little bit. A few injuries here and there, nothing severe, but some guys have had to miss some practice time. It’s definitely been challenging and we’ve got to continue to improve as a football team and figure out the circumstances and figure out a way to be productive in them.”

On what his biggest concern is as the start of the season approaches…

“We’ve had very few COVID cases. We didn’t start until July. That was the first time we had a COVID case. We didn’t have much experience in the month of June. The contact tracing and the numbers as they add up, it’s been very tough to prepare a team to play. We get 25 practices, we’ll probably end up practicing 20 to 22 times unless we have something change over the next couple of weeks. We’re learning as we go.”

On when the team will begin prepping for South Carolina…

“We’ve had to do a little bit along the way. We’ve got certain positions we’re going to rely on guys that don’t have a whole lot of experience. We don’t know when somebody gets hit with a contact tracing and they’re in quarantine for 14 days. They may not be physically anything wrong with them, but they may not be able to come out of quarantine until the Wednesday before the South Carolina game. Trying to give the guys a little bit of a game plan. We’re approaching it one game at a time. That’s the game we’re focused on. We really kind of already started.”

On what he thinks the minimum threshold for the number of available players should be to play a game for the SEC…

“I don’t know exactly what that would be. To me, it’s first off, the safety of the kids. When you start reducing the numbers and start getting the workload that comes in preparation, these guys are not professionals. They need to work on fundamentals and the details. They need to learn how to play because you’ve got guys that maybe have been in the program for four years, and you have guys that just got here. When you start lining them up beside each other, a guy goes the wrong way, that’s when you get guys hurt. So, we really tried to take advantage of our walk-throughs to teach the guys so we can eliminate mental errors. At some point, you have to be able to block, you have to be able to tackle and you have to be able to secure the football, you have to be able to create turnovers. That’s really what football is.”

On how many of the 44 guys who didn’t practice were COVID-19 related…

“All of those guys are not COVID related. Some of those guys, whether it’s soft tissue injury or (other injuries), you know Austin Pope has got his back (injury). We’ve done surgery on Tamarion McDonald. Len’Neth Whitehead is a guy that still is recovering from his surgery, so I don’t know the exact number as far as COVID related, but I think it’s close to 27 or 28 when you talk about quarantine people also.”

On how many active cases of COVID-19 the team has right now…

“I think it’s seven or eight.”

On today being the original date for the season opener prior to the schedule changes…

“Well, I’m really happy we didn’t play today. If we had played today, we would have had a hard time beating anybody, so I guess that might be a blessing in itself.”

On if he misses the pageantry and fans involved with college football…

“Absolutely. The Southeastern Conference, the pageantry that goes with the games, the fans, the competitiveness in each game, even going on the road is a whole lot of fun. So absolutely, it’s something that I love to experience, and I love to be a part of. I’m thankful that I get a chance to be a part of it, but we’re not doing it right now. There’s lots of things that aren’t normal right now and we’re all learning to adapt and figure out a better way.”

On what he’s seen in terms of progression from the quarterbacks…

“Well, it’s frustrating when you can only practice with two groups because we have four quarterbacks, so that means two guys are not getting reps that they need to be getting and it’s hard to develop as a football player without practicing. So, that’s frustrating, trying to share the reps in there. We’ve got a plan and we’ve continued to work that plan. Probably the last three practices Brian Maurer has not done much. He’s got a little bit of a hamstring issue. The other three guys have taken the majority of the reps with Jarrett (Guarantano) taking the most, obviously, but those guys continue to improve. It’s a challenging deal when you talk about the makeup of the offensive line and wide receivers. We’ve already got a young group out there and when you throw in guys that possibly have to miss a day or two here or there, just the timing of routes, understanding having busts out there, so it’s something that we’ve continued to work hard to improve.”

On the testing protocols in the SEC…

“Well, I think the testing protocol is the same for everybody. The thing to me that probably is not consistent and is not consistent in our state, obviously, or nationally, is the contact tracing. It’s all based off of each individual county. Probably how many cases you have, they’re probably a little more strict. Hey, I’m not a doctor, we just follow the CDC guidelines. I’m just giving you the information. Is Knox County the same as Davidson County? We’re playing high school football here but they’re not there. They’re not (playing) in Shelby County. When we start talking about the different states – South Carolina, Missouri, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Florida, Georgia – it’s probably different in each one of the universities locations.”

On the mental state of the program given the adversity …

“I’ve really been excited about our offensive unit because today we had 31 offensive players that didn’t practice and these guys continue to play together. They play with an attitude. I’ve been excited about them. Defensively, to me, has been very disappointing especially up front. Just lack of physicality to finish. It is something that we definitely have to improve on over the next three weeks.”

On how much more difficult his job is with COVID-19 and preparing the team …

“I’m sure it’s like that with everybody in the world with their jobs now. Circumstances are obviously different. We are going through a pandemic. There’s nothing to study the history of this. It’s all new and the information changes daily. The circumstances around us change daily, and we adapt and figure out the best way to help prepare our guys and give them a chance to be the best football players they can possibly be.”

On contact tracing and keeping the team safe …

“I think our guys are trying to do the right thing. They’re aware of it. If somebody that you live with gets it, you’re in quarantine. In our county, that’s the way it is. It might be like that everywhere. I don’t know. We’ve had some of that. I don’t think it’s something to where our players are not being responsible. I definitely don’t think that. My kids go to school, my three and five-year-old go to school. We put masks on them every day, and when I come home, it’s hard not to be around them. My mom and dad came this weekend to see their grandkids. My dad is a high school football coach, and I’ve got lots of nieces and nephews that go to their house. We try to be as safe as we possibly can but there are no guarantees. Everybody is just learning as we go, and we are doing the best that we possibly can.”

On Len’Neth Whitehead …

“He had a significant injury and we knew that when we signed him. Len’Neth is really progressed very well with his rehab. He’s not practicing as far as full-speed reps. He’s doing individual things. Hopefully, in three to four weeks, he’ll be at a point to where he can start taking full-speed reps. If he’s able to do that, maybe in the last half of the year, he’ll play a little bit. Again, he’s right on schedule with where he’s supposed to be and he’s working hard to get there.”

-UT Athletics

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