Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt met with the media after the Vols’ fall camp practice on Wednesday. He discussed his team’s first practice in full pads of the fall, Emmit Gooden’s injury, the departure of Nathan Niehuas, two standout linebackers, and more.
Here’s everything Pruitt said after Wednesday’s practice.
Jeremy Pruitt’s opening statement:
“Unfortunately last night, Emmit Gooden suffered a knee injury and won’t be with us this year. It’s unfortunate for him and for our football team, but Emmit is a guy that has another year, and he’ll continue with going to school and get ready to come back next spring and next fall.
“We worked on our kicking game yesterday. It was good to see our punters’ operation times and them kicking the football. We’ve just been trying to find guys with punt return ability and guys that can do it in live situations, so we created some competition there. I think offensively when we’re consistent, we’ve had a lot of success here in camp. I think our wide receiver group is a very mature group, and they continue to work hard every day. The guys in the running back room continue to compete hard every single day. There’s lot of competition up front, and we got more bodies at tight end, so we just have to find a little bit more consistency offensively. Defensively, it’s kind of a totally different group. To me, there’s not as many guys with playing experience when you look up and down the roster. Tomorrow is really our last major install day, and a lot of these guys are swimming, but as the install slows down, I’m sure a lot of these guys will speed up.”
On if they’ll move anyone to the defensive line following Emmit Gooden’s injury:
“No, we’ll just move some guys up there. We have 10 guys there right now working with the defensive line. There isn’t a whole lot of difference in any of them. Some of them have played in some games, some haven’t. They all have strengths and weaknesses, but most of them have very limited game experience.”
On how the defensive line has looked so far in camp:
“In practice, you start with individual and piece together to a drill, whether it’s a half-line or block progression. Right now, these guys show a lot of promise during their drills. When you get to 11-on-11, there are more things flying around. We haven’t had near the consistency that we need to have, and that will come with more playing time and more practices. We have to continue to put these guys in those situations and put them out there. That’s why they came here, for the opportunity to play, and they’ll get it.”
On freshman linebacker Henry To’oto’o and redshirt freshman linebacker J.J. Peterson:
“J.J. is still in a black jersey. He’s right at, I guess this will probably be four months in two weeks, so he’s about ready to go full contact on Monday or Tuesday of next week. Henry is a guy who things have come real easy to him. He picks things up, instinctive, can cover, fits the runs, is what you’re looking for in a linebacker. He’s pretty advanced for a young guy at that position. He is capable of being a signal caller. He is a guy who can play all three downs. He goes out there and works every day. He’s a hard-working guy, he’s tough, he’s physical. He’s got to continue to do that and work hard every day.”
On Gooden’s injury and the status of offensive lineman Nathan Niehaus:
“Emmit tore his ACL. Our classes don’t end till Friday, he’s in a few hours right now so we will let him finish up his classes, then Matt will do surgery sometime next week. Let him calm down a little bit. Nathan Niehaus has left the team.”
On senior tight end Dominick Wood-Anderson:
“You know, Dom really in junior college didn’t play a whole lot in the ‘C’ area. He played mostly flexed out. He doesn’t shy away from it. He’s a physical guy. Probably, in our offense, tight end is the one place where the multiples might be the greatest because you play a wide receiver position and you play there in the core. We ask them to do a lot of different things. He’s done a really nice job. He’s been a good leader with that group. We’ve got competition there, and we’ve got to find some guys behind him.”
On the physicality of the team following the first full day in pads:
“We were in shells yesterday and the last couple of days, so we really haven’t changed the way we’ve practiced. To me, there’s been inconsistencies on both sides of the ball. One day you see one group have a little bit more success, then the next day the other group. To me, we’re looking for consistency, and when things aren’t going the way we want it to go, we got to change that. I guess we got to put on more steam. We got to learn to do that. That’s part of creating the character of the team or the character of a certain uni, and that starts with leadership, which I think we’ve got plenty of. That’s something we’ve got to do, and they’ve got to exercise that a little bit.”
On senior center Brandon Kennedy:
“I think he’s grateful for every opportunity he gets to play. Unfortunately for Brandon, he has had several injuries over the years. He’s a guy that’s very mature. He goes about his business like you would want one to do. Obviously, he’s graduated from school. He’s fixing to get another degree. He’s in here every day. He’s hungry to get an opportunity to get back out there.”
On what he’s seen from JUCO defensive line signee Darel Middleton:
“Darel is a big bodied guy that has some length to him. He’s one of those guys that’s on day four of an install. There’s a lot being thrown at him, and some of that has to do with the linebackers. They have to make the calls so you have an understanding, and when you’re sitting there and your back is turned, there will be a point in time that he won’t need anyone to make any kind of verbal calls to him because he’ll understand it himself. He’ll be able to look at the formations and have an idea of what he’s got, but right now he’s relying on someone behind him to make the calls. I’m sure there’s some anxiety with that, and there are some times where we don’t line up the correct way, but he’s a guy that has the ability to strike, has ability to rush the quarterback. He’s worked extremely hard since he got here, and we’re excited to have him.”
On freshman linebacker Quavaris Crouch:
“It’s only practice four. In the spring, he worked in our buck on third down, so he worked on a lot of pass rush. Right now, he’s learning a lot of the first and second down stuff. The big thing with him is playing on offensive tackles, just the difference in the size and getting used to doing that. He’s another guy whose motor is always running, and he’s flying around. Lots of times he’s not doing exactly what he’s supposed to be doing, but he’s a playmaker.”
On the importance of the tight ends blocking:
“It’s been an emphasis since the first day we got here. There is lots of youth in that room. You look at our whole football team, with the exception of the wide receiver room, quarterback, and maybe a few positions on defense, but if you look at the depth at each position, we have lots of inexperience. Lots of guys haven’t played. They’re learning. They are learning the basic fundamentals of how we want them to do something. This is perfect for us that we’ve got fall camp right now because we don’t really need to sleep. We need to meet or practice or do something every day even though that’s against the rules. There aren’t enough hours in the day right now, and our kids are looking at it like that right now. We’ll see lots of improvement from these guys as we continue to go.”
On freshman offensive tackle Darnell Wright and redshirt sophomore guard K’Rojhn Calbert:
“Darnell is no different than most offensive linemen at their first college practices. The offensive line, it takes five guys to work together, and the defense a lot of times can dictate your blocking assignments. Whether they move around or if they are in an even front or an odd front or a linebacker moves to the end of the line. It changes your blocking schemes and calls. Obviously, he doesn’t know all those yet, but when he knows what to do, you can see ability and he flashes that. We just have to be patient with him, have realistic expectations, and give the kid a chance to develop as a player.
“K’Rojhn is a guy that I believe has really good ability. We’re looking for consistency, and he knows that. He plays two or three plays really well and then maybe not so much the next one. We’re looking for consistency from our offensive linemen and our whole football team. He has really good talent and has worked hard and he’s a big bodied guy. He has ability, and we’ve just got to find a way to make him play well.”