Thanks to a new rule passed by the NCAA before the start of the season, it’s now easier to redshirt players on a yearly basis. And Tennessee’s coaching staff is fully prepared to take advantage of that new redshirt rule with a few key players this year.
Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt said after Wednesday’s practice that three freshmen and a sophomore won’t play for the Vols again this season in order to preserve their redshirt eligibility. Highly touted freshman linebacker J.J. Peterson, freshman wide receiver Cedric Tillman, freshman defensive lineman Kurott Garland, and sophomore defensive lineman Kivon Bennett have all played in four games this season. And all four won’t see the field again this year.
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“We’re not going to play any of those guys,” Pruitt said of Peterson, Garland, Tillman, and Bennett to reporters on Wednesday. “I’ve talked to them, and I think moving forward, it’s the best thing for those guys.
“You look at Cedric Tillman, he’s a guy that’s played in four games, and he’s took tons of reps this fall. (We’re) just being fair to him down the road. J.J.’s the same deal. Got in here the second week of the season. Four years from now, they’ll have a choice, you know?”
Tillman has appeared in games against West Virginia, ETSU, Alabama, and Charlotte. He managed to catch a pass against West Virginia, though it went for a loss of three yards. Peterson has played on special teams against Alabama, Charlotte, Kentucky, and Missouri, while Garland appeared in games against ETSU, Georgia, Charlotte, and Missouri.
Peterson was the most talked about among that group of freshmen, but he’s actually played the least among the trio. Tillman played some offensive snaps along with a little bit on special teams, and Garland rotated into the defensive line some this season. Peterson — who didn’t join the Vols until after their game with West Virginia — has only played on special teams.
Garland has shown promise on the defensive line in his limited snaps, and he’ll likely be counted on more next year and in the coming seasons with Tennessee losing all three starting defensive linemen and key reserve Paul Bain to graduation after this season.
“We’re not going to play Kurott Garland in this game,” Pruitt added. “He’s played four games, and he’s actually, he’s really improved over the course of the season. He’s playing probably five to eight snaps in the game, so to figure out a way to not force this kid into losing a year, we decided to move Kingston (Harris) to defense.”
Fellow freshman Kingston Harris started out on the defensive line when he came to Tennessee, but he was moved over to the offensive line and has stayed there all fall. But he’ll be back on defense for the remainder of the year to keep the depth along the line in an okay spot. Harris himself has only appeared in two games, so he’s also eligible for a redshirt.
Kivon Bennett is someone who could’ve benefited from this new rule last season. Bennett only appeared in four games for Tennessee last year, and he played very sparingly in those four contests. This year, he’s made appearances against West Virginia, Alabama, Kentucky, and Missouri, and he’s totaled two tackles in his four games.
“I think this rule is great for guys like that,” Pruitt said. “We’ve got four or five guys that’s played in four games, and they’ve prepared to play every week in some role. Some of them have played on special teams, and it’s something that you have to make a decision based off their role. Is it worth an entire year? We’ve kind of talked through some of that with some of our guys.”
Tennessee has several other players eligible to redshirt heading into the final regular season game this year. Quarterbacks JT Shrout and Will McBride, offensive linemen Tanner Antonutti and Ollie Lane, and defensive lineman Greg Emerson are among the list of Vol players who still qualify for redshirts this season.