Transcript: Jeremy Pruitt media avail (9.10.20)

Jeremy Pruitt Press Conference
Thursday, Sept. 10

Opening Statement

UT head coach Jeremy Pruitt / Credit: 99.1 The Sports Animal

“We went back to Neyland last night and had somewhat of a scrimmage, got to get in probably somewhere around 40 to 44 plays in situational football. It was good to do. It was pretty sloppy, to be honest. Lots of penalties, especially on the offensive side – false starts, which just goes back to team take off, not having some guys in there being consistent with cadence. Offensively, we put the ball on the ground a few times. Defensively, again the things that you think would show up when you’ve not had a chance to go live in a very long time is missed tackles. So, we have a whole lot of things that we really need to improve on over the next two weeks and we’ve got to work hard to do that. I would suspect that our plan will obviously change a little bit as we move closer to the game. I don’t feel like we have the luxury of just strictly doing like an in-season practice, probably for the first couple of weeks. We really need to kind of stay in camp form and focus on fundamentals. We have some experience at some positions but yet at others we have lots of inexperience. We’ve got to create some consistency, some chemistry in all three phases. There definitely has been some bright spots with some guys that we didn’t know a whole lot about and those guys have got to continue to gain knowledge of the position that they play, which will give them a chance to contribute this year. As we get some of these guys back, we really need to focus on special teams. It’s probably been the biggest battle for us over the last 10 to 14 days, is kind of creating the same unit out there on special teams and kind of taking the next steps.”

On if the SEC has had any involvement with Cade Mays’ appeal … 

“I have specifically not spoken to Greg (Sankey) about it. I obviously have spoken to William King (SEC Associate Commissioner for Legal Affairs and Compliance), who represents the football side. I know how this goes. There’s all kinds of policies and rules that have been voted on over the years. I understand that the time that some of these rules were voted on, why they were. Here’s the but though, with what’s going on in our country right now over the last six months with a pandemic, there’s probably not one family in America that has not suffered in the last six months. It’s unusual times. To me, there’s a big part of all of this that I’ve been very concerned about with all of our players and all of our young people, is mental health. I can’t imagine being a child from five or six to age 25 or 30 that they feel like their youth is being taken away, the things that they’re used to doing. So, with that, everybody that’s playing NCAA football this year, their eligibility doesn’t count, so everybody on our team can come back and play another year. A senior can be a senior again, a freshman can be a freshman again. This is not just about Cade (Mays). I would say everybody that tried to transfer, to me, it would be foolish for anybody that’s capable of enabling this, it would be foolish of us not to do that just for what’s right.”

On if any of the players who were in quarantine last week are back at practice…

“Well we’ve had so many guys out, I can’t keep up with who’s available and who’s not available. And it changes by the day. So, to be specific on names, my days have really run together when it comes to that, so I probably wouldn’t be much good.”

On the QBs and WRs and if there is a No. 2 QB…

“Well we’ve really had a lot of offensive players out, so it has been very tough to create some chemistry on that side of the ball. Whether it is in the o-line, running backs or wide receivers. I feel like these guys have continued to improve every day. It has been exciting for me to watch them do that because they’ve had some adversity during this camp, and I’m sure there will continue to be adversity throughout the season, but it’s been good to see those guys on the offensive side respond. We’re nowhere near where we need to be consistency-wise. Some of our older guys have two or three good plays, then a bad one, two or three good plays then a bad one. It’s hard to sustain offense, to sustain drives and that’s something we are going to have to be able to do. Got a lot of work there and we’ve got to really hone in here in the next 10 days and make strides as a football team in all three phases in the next 10 days. There’s going to be a lot of work that’s got to get done.”

On who would take over as interim head coach if he gets put in quarantine …

“Tee (Martin) is the assistant head coach. Jim Chaney, I think he’s the winningest head coach in the history of Tennessee football at 1-0 so I know he would not want that. He is going to take that mark with him for the rest of his life so he would absolutely be out. Obviously, it would be Tee.”

On making Alontae Taylor, Jeremy Banks and Jordan Allen two-way guys to pad depth …

“No, we’ve not worked anybody both ways. There are probably times in special situations that we can use other guys. We’ve really not done that. We’ve really been trying to stick to the basic fundamentals; keeping our schemes very simple. No. 1 we hang on to the football, two we cause some turnovers and three we get guys to play fast.”

On talking with the SEC on making contact tracing a uniform policy …

“I’m no expert when it comes to that. I do believe the contact tracing is different from state-to-state.”

On the defensive line …

“There were a couple of guys that showed improvement to me. Prime (Kurott) Garland I thought had his best practice. Ja’Quain Blakely continues to work hard. He’d been out a few days but he’s back. We’re taking baby steps up there, and we’ve got to continue to do that. The next several practices are really big practices for those guys. We need to get out of the baby steps and probably start taking some leaps.”

On pinpointing where contact tracing is from …

“Our contact tracing has mainly been roommates. I think in some states it is six feet without a mask for 15 minutes, but here in Knoxville where we’ve got the biggest hurdle is actual roommates, whether they live there or not all the time.”

On if having players out because of contact tracing will be a distraction for the team…

“Well it’s no distraction to us. We take who’s there each day and we work hard to make them be the best players they can possibly be. Our No. 1 thing here is protect our players – that’s the No. 1 thing. I’m not sure that we’ve had a few more numbers as far as tracing. We’ve tested a lot, and we might have tested more than anybody else out there. I have no idea, but we’ve done a lot of testing to make sure that we’re trying to create the proper environment because safety has been the No. 1 priority for us. I realize we’re getting ready to start a football season and we’re working hard to put the best product we can out there on the field. We’ve tried to follow the rules exactly as they’ve been presented to us, and we’ll continue to do that.”

On how the coaches are keeping the players from being distracted…

“I don’t know how much distraction there has actually been. We practice every other day. From a standpoint of demand, for a fall camp, this has been more like spring ball. I don’t think there have been distractions. We’ve been in Zoom meetings for a very long time, so when the kids aren’t here, they’re in Zoom meetings so it’s not like they’re totally away from a mental standpoint. From a team-building part of it, having a group of guys together for a long period of time to help create chemistry has been tough to do.”

On if the team will practice all 25 times allotted…

“We definitely probably will not reach 25 practices. I think it’s important that we’re efficient with our practice time. From a number’s standpoint, I’m not sure that we’re ready to go fall camp, back-to-back-to-back days. That probably would do more harm than good. We want to make sure we’re efficient so we can keep guys healthy and continue to improve as a football team.”

On if he’s talked to other SEC head coaches about their contact tracing requirements…

“I’ve talked to these guys quite a bit, but I can assure you if there was some kind of competitive advantage that somebody could get, they sure wouldn’t be sharing it.”

On if the team has discussed the implications of the upcoming Name, Image and Likeness legislation…

“There are lots of things that go into that rule that nobody knows about yet. There are some things that have to get voted on and have to get some clarity from a state level, federal level and really through the NCAA on exactly what you can do. We’re working hard as a university to be ready for that when all of this stuff is finalized. When it comes to recruiting, that’s not really been a sales pitch for us.”

On watching other program’s football games to see if there are any things to learn and help UT to prepare for what to expect…

“One thing we’ve tried to do as a staff is make sure we have guys that have watched those games. I’ve not watched any. (We want) to see if there are things that come up. Obviously, this is a new experience for everybody that’s involved. We’ll get a chance again to watch this weekend. We’ll definitely be doing that or we’ll have someone on our staff doing that.”

-UT Athletics

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