Pruitt: Returning Players have “Really Bought In” for Vols

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    Photo by Anne Newman/RTI

    Tennessee head football coach Jeremy Pruitt is entering his second year as the Vols’ head coach, and he’s noticing things are going more smoothly for him now compared to last year.

    In a video interview with Tennessee men’s basketball coach Rick Barnes, Pruitt talked about how things are going with himself and the football program as they go through winter workouts preparing for spring practices. Pruitt says that he’s noticing more buy-in from the players who are returning from the roster from last season.

    “After being here 12 months, the second time around is a lot smoother,” Pruitt told Barnes. “I think our guys that are coming back that’s been here a year have really bought in, and you can kinda see the positive impact they’re having on their teammates and even the new freshman that are coming in. You can already see these guys — how they’re in the weight room, how they go out in conditioning — they all came from winning programs.

    “I think sometimes it starts getting contagious out there when they start competing, so I think there’s a good mix.”

    Tennessee returns a lot of production from their roster last season thanks to a smaller than normal graduating senior class. The Vols only lose 11 players due to graduation from last season, and so far they’ve only lost a few other players due to other circumstances.

    Linebacker Quart’e Sapp declared early for the 2019 NFL Draft, and tight end Eli Wolf, cornerback Marquill Osborne, and quarterback Will McBride have transferred. Three other players — Tanner Antonutti, Devante Brooks, and Chance Hall — have had to medically retire this offseason as well.

    The Vols still have a few players in the new NCAA transfer portal, and there will have to be a little more attrition on the team to get the roster to the 85 scholarship limit. But Pruitt has been happy with the amount of buy-in from his players this year thus far.

    Tennessee welcomes back over 60 scholarship players from last season, and they’re also welcoming in 12 newcomers this spring. The Vols have 10 early enrollees from their 2019 signing class who are already with the team, and they’ve welcomed in two transfers from other Power Five programs. Defensive lineman Aubrey Solomon and defensive back/wide receiver Deangelo Gibbs have joined Tennessee from Michigan and Georgia, respectively.

    But the roster isn’t the only thing that’s seen some changes for the Vols this offseason.

    Pruitt has hired three new coaches to his staff heading into the 2019 season, and he discussed all those new additions with Barnes.

    “We added Jim Chaney. Jim’s been doing it in this league a very long time,” Pruitt said of his new offensive coordinator. “We added Tee Martin. I don’t think anybody out there could sell the University of Tennessee better than Tee. We just added Derrick Ansley. I’ve worked with Derrick for two stints down at Alabama, and the guy is a phenomenal teacher.”

    Chaney returns to Tennessee after calling plays at Pittsburgh, Arkansas, and Georgia the last several years. Chaney was the Vols’ offensive coordinator from 2009-12, and he served that same role for the Bulldogs the last three seasons before Pruitt hired him away this offseason.

    Martin joins the Vols after being let go from USC as their offensive coordinator. He and the rest of USC’s staff were let go this offseason as head coach Clay Helton made wholesale changes to his staff. Martin quarterbacked the Vols during their 1998 National Championship season and has coached at New Mexico, Kentucky, and USC.

    Ansley is the most recent addition to Pruitt’s staff, having been hired earlier this month. He comes to Tennessee after spending one year in the NFL as the Oakland Raiders’ defensive backs coach. Pruitt worked with Ansley at Alabama from 2010-11 and again from 2016-17. Ansley will be the Vols’ defensive coordinator in 2019, a role he’s never had before.

    Tennessee is expected to start spring practices on March 7th, and the annual Orange & White spring game will be on April 13th at 6:00 PM Eastern.

    Nathanael Rutherford is the managing editor and social media manager for Rocky Top Insider. Nathanael graduated from the University of Tennessee and cultivated a passion for the Vols while growing up in Knoxville a mere 10 minutes from Neyland Stadium. He's been a part of the RTI team since November of 2015 and has been the editor of RTI since June of 2017. If he's not talking or writing about Tennessee athletics, he's probably talking about Star Wars.