Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt met with the media on Thursday to unofficially kick off the 2019 football season.
If you missed his press conference live, you can catch the full replay of it here. If you’d rather read all of his quotes, then the following article is for you.
Here’s everything Pruitt had to say as he enters his second year as the Vols’ head coach.
“I hope everybody had a good summer. I know we have here at the university. Our guys have done a really good job academically.
“(Strength and Conditioning Coach Craig Fitzgerald) and his staff have laid out a plan for us to follow during the summer time, and our guys have done a good job executing it. (Director of Sports Nutrition for Football) Rachel Pfister and her staff have had lots of guys that really needed to change their bodies over the course of the summer, which is not unusual when you have a lot of newcomers. Our guys have worked really hard to do that.
“I was sitting here last night reflecting on it: I don’t know the exact number of how many fall camps this is for me, but I know one thing is, for me, this is the most exciting part of the year. To get an opportunity to take 110 young men and to grow with the coaching staff and everybody that’s involved and get a chance to create a team. Nobody knows what that team is going to be. You have to create your identity, you have to come together. And there’s lots of things that go into fall camp. It’s one of the few times that there’s not as many restrictions when it comes to the time that you can spend with your players.
“Just talking to our team and our coaches, one thing we really need to focus on in fall camp is our core fundamentals – knowing what to do, how to do it and why it’s important to do it that way. I’ve never been around a really good football player or a great team that didn’t have toughness. Physical, mental toughness, something that you have to train that way. You have to do it, and it has to become a habit for you. That’s something that we really need to focus on.
“When you talk about winning football games, the first thing that you have to be able to do is not beat yourself. General Neyland’s Maxims, ‘The team that makes the fewest mistakes will win,’ right? So something that we really have to focus on is we have to be a smart football team. We have to know what to do and be able to do it and be able to execute consistently and then be able to do it over and over again, which goes back to practice habits. That’s something that we really have to focus on in this fall camp.
“One thing to me is just the ball, the ball itself. I was looking at some interesting notes this offseason, and if you were an offensive team and you didn’t turn the ball over last year in the Power Five, you have a 73 percent chance to win the game. You turn the ball over one time, it’s a 51 percent chance. So we started putting all that together. How important is the ball in itself? Offensively, being able to secure the football. Defensively, being able to be opportunistic and get the ball off of people. So that’s something to focus on in this camp.
“There’s going to be lots of competition, probably the most competition since we’ve been here. We’re excited about that, and I think our players are excited about it. We have to create some depth. If you look across our roster, there are lots of talented guys, and many of whom have never participated in a college football game or they played very little. But that’s why they came here, for the opportunity to play for one of the best universities in all of college football and to play in this league. The only way you’re going to gain experience is to get out there and play. We have 28 practices before we play our first game, so they will have lots of opportunities to learn how to play.”
On defensive lineman Kurott Garland entering the transfer portal:
“There’s lots of guys that go into the transfer portal, and I’ve been a proponent of it. It gives those guys an opportunity to find their way. When they go into the portal, it doesn’t mean they’re going to transfer, so we’ll let that situation play out and see where it goes.”
On his assessment of the defensive line entering fall camp:
“We haven’t practiced since the spring. We have lots of inexperience. We have lots of talented guys. We’re bigger, stronger, faster. The guys have worked hard this offseason. So it’s a big camp to create depth and competition there moving forward.”
On building relationships with the players during the offseason:
“It takes time to build relationships. The first time I ever walked in this room, I didn’t know any of you all (the media). I look around now, and I know most of you by name and lots of you I have relationships with, so it takes time to be able to do that. It’s no different than with a football team or with a player individually. So just based off of time, naturally, you’re going to have more of a relationship. We know each other. I’m satisfied that our players know the expectations every single day with whatever presents itself in our program. We know our guys, we know where their strengths are, where their weaknesses are. And we’ve been able to build on that in this offseason.”
On what he meant when he said the program needs to have more confidence at SEC Media Days:
“I said that our program needs to have confidence. When you do something a bunch of times over and over again, obviously, you get pretty good at it. Whether you’re playing right tackle and you block the same run place, whether you’ve been there for three practices or 300, you gain experience, and you get pretty good at what you’re trying to get done. When you get good at something, you gain confidence. Looking at our football team, we have lots of guys that have played a lot of football. Jauan Jennings, Marquez Callaway, Jarrett Guarantano, Daniel Bituli, Darrell Taylor, Nigel Warrior. There are lots of guys who have played lots of meaningful snaps around here, guys who have the chance to be really good football players.
“And then you look at some other parts of our team, whether they’ve been here for a couple of years in the program and they just put their bodies in a position to physically be able to compete at a high level in this league, or they’re true freshmen that are coming in here for the first time and are getting the chance to see what big time college football is about. I have confidence in our football team. I have confidence in our coaches, the plan that we have, the way I’ve seen our guys work in the offseason to either change their bodies, eat what they’re supposed to, and be in the classroom.
“It takes a lot to be a good football player. It takes a lot to be a good football team, and we have made a lot of progress in the last six months for this 2019 team. So when you do something over and over, you gain confidence. And when you get good at something, you become confident, and that’s something that we have to do. We have to develop confidence as a football program.”
An update on Aubrey Solomon, Deangelo Gibbs, and Trey Smith:
“We have a really good idea about Deangelo. He’s going to redshirt and sit out this year. I think moving within the SEC, that’s really what’s going to happen there. You just don’t transfer from one SEC school to the other without being a graduate transfer. Deangelo knew that when he came here, and he came here because he believed in the coaching staff and for his future development in the game of football. He’s done a really nice job this offseason. The key for him is what side of the ball is he going to play on? The guy can play either side of the ball, but it’s important for us for the next nine months to make sure that he’s in the right position, so he can continue to grow and develop as a football player so when he does get an opportunity to be eligible, he is ready to contribute.
“Aubrey, we have not heard anything yet. It could be tomorrow, it could be two weeks from now. But whenever it happens, it will happen.
“And then Trey Smith, he expressed that he wants to play football. Our doctors have kind of collaborated with everybody across the country, a lot of specialists to try to figure out a plan to enable him to have an opportunity to be able to do that.”
On the offensive line entering fall camp:
“I’m excited for our 2019 offensive line. You look at these guys, and when they walk into a room, whether they’ve been here for a year, two years, three years, you can see how their bodies have changed in a positive way. We’ve got guys that have experience. That have played in a lot of games. We’ve got guys that, again, are new on the campus and they’re looking for the opportunity to play. We have competition in the room. We have smart guys that demonstrated to me in the spring some physical toughness or some physicality. But if you look at the group all together, no, they’ve not played a lot together. (We) mixed a lot of different groups this spring, and I’m excited about the group and how they’re going to perform in this fall camp.”
On looking forward to this year’s team compared to last year:
“Well, I’m not worried about last year. That book closed in November. We’re worried about the 2019 version. We’re going to start writing that tomorrow and today as we report for camp. I know that our guys have a lot of goals and expectations. We’ll see how it plays out over the next six months.”
On senior defensive back Baylen Buchanan:
“Baylen is a guy that didn’t get participate in spring, so it’s been day-to-day, and we’ll probably hold him for the first couple weeks and see where he’s at in a couple of weeks.”
On the depth at the “star” position in the secondary:
“We teach everything conceptually on the defensive side of the ball. Most every one of our defensive backs could play STAR, or they can play MONEY, and both of those positions kind of go hand in hand. Our MONEY position is usually when we have six defensive backs on the field. Nigel Warrior worked in the spring, Shawn Shamburger, Theo Jackson, Cheyenne LaBruzza, Bryce Thompson, really all those guys including Jaylen McCollough. We actually go out there and practice, and we rotate guys through during practice. The first series we might go with a group and Nigel might play STAR. The next series he’s in he might play strong safety and Bryce Thompson might play STAR. That’s how we teach our guys conceptually, and with that group, the defensive backs, these guys have lots of ability. There’s lots of experience returning, and we’ve made some really good additions in recruiting, and we’ve had some young guys that maybe didn’t play a whole lot last year that have had really good offseasons. There’s lots of competition back there.”
On his coaching staff:
“With Jim (Chaney) and Derek (Ansley) and Tee (Martin) also, we have a really good coaching staff with the addition of these guys. A lot of people say, ‘I’ve got the best coaching staff in the country.’ Most of the people that say it haven’t been a part of the staffs that I’ve been a part of, which has been some really good ones over the years. I truly believe with them on our staff, and I’ve told you this morning, when you talk about teaching, recruiting, relationships, character, all the intangibles that comes with being a football coach, I truly believe that we do have the best staff in the country”
On where the team’s health is going into the season:
“Well, when you train like we train, there’s a fine line right? You got to push the limits and all that, so when we go into fall camp there may be a couple of guys it may be limited for first couple of days. Just to kind of get them ready to practice. If you look, there was a study this past year in professional football the first five days of training camp when it comes to soft tissue injuries, with the NFL last year was one of the most reported injuries throughout the entire season was soft issue. We gave our guys as a couple of days off heading into fall camp because we had a great summer conditioning and weight room program, and we wanted to give a little bit of closure there. Give them a few days off to be excited about fall camp. When we get it, we’ll get it running. But they’ll probably be a few guys that might be limited to this drill or that drill but nobody we’re really holding out.”
On Jarrett Guarantano putting on weight:
“Jarrett, along with a lot of our guys, has really changed his body. I don’t know if he has really gained 20 pounds, but he has really changed his body for the good. Some of that is with age, but a lot of it has to do with our nutrition and strength and conditioning program and really Jarrett’s commitment to be the best he can possibly be. He’s done a really good job this offseason from a leadership standpoint. It starts in the weight room, right? Again, I’ll say this: I’ve never been around a good player at any position that didn’t have some kind of toughness. I think we all know Jarrett is a tough guy. I think he’s poised to have a really good year, and it starts with fall camp.”
On Alontae Taylor entering his second year as a defensive back:
Talking about Alontae, this time last year he didn’t know a strong safety from a corner or a cover two to a cover three. He played the first game, we had 28 practices to get him kind of ready to do that. Again, this is a guy that works extremely hard. He’s a perfectionist. There’s not many days that I don’t walk (past the indoor practice field) out there and he’s not out there doing something on his own. Given the fact that he’s played a lot of football had a chance to participate in our entire spring, you expect him to have a good fall camp.”
On Jim Chaney’s relationship with Jarrett Guarantano:
“Working with Jim for the last six months, he’s really easy to talk to, and he is a funny guy, has a great personality, witty and really, really smart. I’ve sat in his meetings with the offensive staff and with the offensive players, and he captivates them. He has a really good teaching progression and knows what he is talking about, and I believe in him. I’m sure our coaches believe in him, and our players believe in him. He’s a guy that’s done well for a long period of time, and the guy just seems to get better every year.”
On Craig Fitzgerald’s work with the team during the offseason:
“First of all, Craig is a team guy. He is a team guy, which is very important. A lot of guys in strength and conditioning, when they max down there they think it’s their game day. And it is to some extent, but Craig realizes that he’s trying to develop football players and him along with his staff, who he hand-picked, have done a really nice job, not just in just in strengthening conditioning, but for the mindset of our team. You can create the identity of your team in the offseason in the strength and conditioning program. Nobody in our program spends more time with our players than our strength staff does. He did a really nice job this offseason. He’s a guy I lean on for a lot of things, and we’re excited that he is here, and he’ll do a nice job with them during the fall also.”