This article was written by new RTI contributor Adam McCracken
As we prepare for the Orange & White game, Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt addressed the media on Tuesday, highlighting some important notes from this past Saturday’s scrimmage.
One of the highlights was the defense, according to Pruitt. He mentioned there was “more strain on the defensive side of the ball” and more effort than in previous practices and scrimmages. One of the exciting mentions of the defense was the pressure they got on the quarterback.
“Guys were pressuring the quarterback. We did give up a couple of big plays, and we need to eliminate those,” Pruitt said on Tuesday. “We really got to improve consistency at all three levels whether it starts with communication, getting lined up, or playing the proper technique. We got to find a way to get more turnovers.”
With only 24 toal sacks as a team last year and only four players totaling more than one sack, edge rushers have been a focus of Pruitt’s defense this offseason. One edge rusher that stood out in the scrimmage was Kivon Bennett. After only playing in two games last year, Pruitt has praised the emergence of Bennett.
“Kivon Bennett had a good scrimmage,” Pruitt explained. “He is a guy that we moved last year from defensive line to outside linebacker. We were fortunate enough to be able to redshirt him last year. He’s gained some experience there. He still makes a few mental errors here and there, but I think he plays hard.
“It gives him a chance to have some success at a position that he kind of fits better than a defensive tackle.”
Another standout in this past Saturday’s scrimmage was Deangelo Gibbs. After transferring from Georgia, Gibbs has seen reps on both sides of the ball, but he has recently been playing primarily on defense. Though the NCAA has yet to make a ruling on his status for this year, Gibbs has wasted no time making his presence known on the practice field.
“Deangelo has done really well at the ‘star,'” Pruitt stated. “He’s a big guy that is a good blitzer. He plays well against the run and has really soft hands. He picked off a pass the other day in a scrimmage. That’s one of the things you need to have in the back end. When the offense makes a mistake, you have to make them pay, and he’s a guy that can do that.”
Pruitt is planning to leave Gibbs on defense for the rest of spring so he can have equal reps on both sides. Gibbs’ future position at Tennessee will be decided later.
On the offensive side of the ball, Pruitt seemed less than satisfied with the lack of explosive plays, as well as negative plays and not finishing. He mentioned that there was still trouble with the snaps. This was a problem mentioned earlier in the spring, and Pruitt is still less than thrilled about starting multiple plays off with a bad snap. Though there were some negatives, Pruitt was very encouraged by some smart corrections.
“Offensively there were a few things I thought we had done well,” Pruitt said. “We eliminated penalties, eliminated third downs, handled the four-minute situation.”
One of the things that Tennessee fans love about Pruitt is his forthrightness. He has never been in the business of making excuses, and that showed once again with his comments on Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano.
After praising Guarantano’s leadership and his positive steps this spring, Pruitt was quick to note the redshirt junior’s inconsistency in the scrimmage.
“Jarrett (Guarantano) has experience, and Saturday was not his best practice,” Pruitt explained. “Might have been his worst practice for the spring, but we got to have more consistency there.”
Pruitt did mention how well Guarantano has been controlling the new offensive system and said that the addition of Jim Chaney as offensive coordinator and his new system, the growth of Guarantano, and the experience from the wide receiver position have all factored into quite a few offensive highlights this spring.
This Saturday, all of the comments, concerns, and signs of growth will be put to test in front of thousands at the 2019 Orange & White Game. After totaling 151 plays this past scrimmage, Pruitt is hoping to get 65-70 snaps with each group this Saturday.
When asked about the format for the scrimmage, Pruitt eased the minds of Vol fans by simply stating, “We will play a game.” That’s a far cry from the wild scrimmage style of former head coach Butch Jones, and it will be a better evaluation tool for where the Vols are right now.