Pruitt: Vols’ Roster is “Night and Day” Compared to 18 Months Ago

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    (Photo via Noah Taylor/UTK Daily Beacon)

    It’s no secret that when Jeremy Pruitt took over as Tennessee’s head coach, the Vols’ strength and conditioning program was more or less in shambles.

    Tennessee’s roster had suffered an unusual amount of injuries — both season-ending and otherwise serious injuries — over the last two years. Both the 2016 and 2017 seasons were marred by a rash of injuries on both sides of the ball, and former head coach Butch Jones went through three different strength and conditioning coaches in his last three years at UT.

    One of the main goals Pruitt had when he became head coach was to stabilize both the strength and conditioning program and the nutrition program at Tennessee. A year and a half later, he’s happy with the results he’s seen so far.

    Pruitt spoke to the gathered media at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Alabama on Tuesday. On the main stage, he talked about the gains Tennessee’s roster has seen under the new direction of Craig Fitzgerald and Rachel Pfister.

    “Craig Fitzgerald, he’s our strength and conditioning guy, he along with Rachel Pfister (Director of Sports Nutrition for Football), we had a huge challenge for them this offseason,” Pruitt said. “We had a lot of big, long, skinny guys. We had several guys that weighed 260 pounds that went from 260 to 310 or from 270 to 320 in the last eight months.

    “Craig and his staff along with Rachel and her staff have done a really nice job with our strength and conditioning, tying it together with nutrition.”

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    Across the board, Tennessee’s roster has bulked up and slimmed down where needed. Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, running back Ty Chandler, and linebacker Shanon Reid are perfect examples of this.

    When Pruitt took over in December of 2017, Guarantano was just over 200 pounds. According to Tennessee’s updated summer roster, he’s now at 215 pounds and will likely enter his redshirt junior season around 220 pounds. Similarly, Chandler was just 195 pounds in his freshman year. Now, he’s up over 200 pounds and could be around 210 pounds by the start of the season. Reid has undergone a radical transformation, bulking up extensively over the winter and weighing in at 230 pounds after weighing only 215 pounds as a freshman in 2017.

    But in the SEC, the line of scrimmage is the biggest deciding factor in wins and losses. And according to Jeremy Pruitt, there’s a massive difference between last year and now in UT’s size up front on offense.

    “When you look at our football team, we’ve completely changed. This time last year, we had two guys on our offensive line that weighed over 300 pounds. Now, we have 15,” Pruitt added. “Does that make you a football player? No, it doesn’t, but I can assure you this: In this league, when you start putting people up front, it helps to have large men.”

    According to UT’s official roster, the only scholarship offensive linemen who weighed 300 or more pounds at the start of the 2018 season were Drew Richmond, Eric Crosby, Ryan Johnson, Trey Smith, K’Rojhn Calbert, Jerome Carvin, and Chance Hall. Smith had to quit playing midway through the season after his blood clots in his lungs resurfaced, Hall played a handful of games but had to medically retire this offseason, and Carvin was a true freshman with more bad weight than the others.

    Now, Tennessee has a lot more bodies on the offensive line that look beefier.

    Per Tennessee’s official roster, there are only two scholarship offensive linemen who weigh under 300 pounds as of right now. Riley Locklear (291 pounds) and Jahmir Johnson (270) are the only offensive linemen not tipping the scales over 300 pounds.

    As Pruitt said, adding weight doesn’t automatically make someone a better football player. But it usually helps to have an offensive line with a lot of mass. That coupled with the rest of the strength and conditioning gains UT’s roster has undergone this offseason has made Tennessee a completely different team than they were when Pruitt took over.

    Don’t believe me? Then take Pruitt’s word for it. He said just as much in a follow-up interview on the set of SEC Now at SEC Media Days.

    “If you look at our football team 18 months ago and where we are today, it’s night and day.”