Here are excerpts from comments made by Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt, players Eric Gray, Deandre Johnson and Josh Palmer, and Florida coach Dan Mullen at various press conferences this week.
TENNESSEE COACH JEREMY PRUITT
With OLB Kivon Bennett dismissed, UT coach Jeremy Pruitt said true freshman Tyler Baron would get more snaps and he has `played well for us.’ Pruitt also sees Roman Harrison, who was banged up for a couple weeks, and Merven Joseph getting more playing time.
Would UT accept a bowl bid despite a losing record? `Absolutely,’ Pruitt said, adding that about 50 players on the team are freshmen or sophomores and more practices give them a chance to improve. `Those opportunities can be rewarding.’
Florida’s defense allows 25.9 points per game and 386.9 yards per game, but Pruitt thinks those stats are not a good `indicator’ of how good Florida’s defense is. Pruitt said if your offense scores 40 points, a defensive coordinator `might play a little softer coverage, especially late in games.’
Asked if true freshman QB Harrison Bailey would start v. Florida, Pruitt said: `He’ll definitely play, to what extend, I have not decided yet.’ Pruitt said Bailey has `handled himself well’ in 3 games in which he’s played and he `continues to improve’ and be more `comfortable in the system. QB Jarrett Guarantano has missed multiple practices since the Auburn game, but it is not known for sure if the reason is contact tracing.
Asked which young players have improved the most over the past 5 weeks, Pruitt listed many: athlete Dee Beckwith, WRs Jimmy Callaway and Jimmy Holiday, RB Jabari Small. DL Omari Thomas, DB Key Lawrence. `I’m excited about the growth of our freshmen and sophomores.’
FLORIDA COACH DAN MULLEN
Florida coach Dan Mullen said today that Tennessee has `talent across the board’ and a `bunch of offensive weapons.’ He added: `When they’re clicking offensively … they can put up points in a hurry and have a bunch of explosive plays.’
Mullen said UT has a `veteran defense’ but the team has had a couple of tough breaks in games. `Earlier in the year they had one of the longest win streaks in the country. They have a talented group that knows how to win.’
Mullen said QB Kyle Trask has made a big leap from 2019 to 2020 due to a `really great work ethic.’ He said Trask showed `tremendous resiliency’ to do what he did last year. He said Trask is `mentally tough’ and prepares the right way.
Mullen said TE Kyle Pitts was already committed to Florida when Mullen was hired. Mullen said Pitts was a `dynamic playmaker’ as a TE in HS and was an `explosive pass rusher.’ But Pitts make it clear he wanted to play offense in college.
Mullen said teams with an explosive offense have a `great quarterback’ and explosive playmakers. Mullen said a coach needs to use the strengths of its playmakers and `have adaptability within the system to use the playmakers the right way.’
He said he’s coached great offenses at Utah, Florida in 2008, Mississippi State in 2014 and Florida 2020. He said Florida this year is pass first while others were more run first or 50-50. He said Tim Tebow might have had greatest college career of any QB in history.
RB ERIC GRAY
Tennessee’s Eric Gray feels his strengths as a RB are his vision and elusiveness, traits he’s had since the 8th grade when he was moved from QB to RB because he was the fastest guy on the team. He ranks among the SEC’s top 7 in rushing and all-purpose yards.
Gray has had 59 touches in the last 2 games but he said his body is right after the open dates. he said he feels he does a `great job’ taking care of his body before and after games.
Gray said he has thought often about a 1000-yard season even playing just 10 games against SEC opponents. Gray said he hasn’t talked to his OL about it but he should probably `take ‘em out for steaks.’
Even if UT has a losing record, Gray said going to a bowl game is `always fun, always a great experience.’ He said the extra bowl practices `allows you to build on next season and see what you need to work on.’
WR JOSH PALMER
Palmer said freshman QB Harrison Bailey is `calm, cool and collected’ when he enters a game and that he’s `coming along well as a quarterback. I’m excited to see what he shows in a game.’
What does Palmer like about RB Eric Gray: `His competitiveness, his toughness, he wants the ball, he wants to show the world what he can do.’ Palmer said it’s the receivers job to block for Gray to `let him show that.’
Palmer, a senior, said he has not considered yet whether to return to UT next season. `We’ll see how the season plays out.’ He factors come into making that kind of decision but he hasn’t weighed all the options.
Palmer said he’s unsure why some college players have recently opted out the rest of the season, except maybe to prepare for the draft. He said UT palyers haven’t opted out because `we’re really bought in and trying to finish the season strong. … We’re all in.’
OLB DEANDRE JOHNSON
Florida native and UT OLB Deandre Johnson said he played with or against many Gators in high school. He said he grew up a Florida State fan while rest of family liked Miami.
Johnson is 0-3 v. Florida. What would it mean to beat the Gators?: `Oh man, it’s most definitely at the top of my check list. I’ve got to do that before I leave here. … I’m most definitely excited to get back in Neyland and put on a show.’
Johnson said his season has had some good and bad. He said the Vols must affect Florida QB Kyle Trask (34 touchdown passes in 8 games): `That’s one of the main things we’ve got to do, keep him in the pocket, make him make some wrong decisions.’
Johnson said he will `pin his ears back’ and rush Trask and try to `make some winning plays’ and `show off my versatility.’ He said the defense has added some packages during the open dates