Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt met with the media on Tuesday after the Vols’ fall camp practice session. He discussed what he saw from his team during Sunday’s scrimmage — the Vols’ first scrimmage this fall — and he talked about his team’s practice on Tuesday, health updates for a couple players, and more.
Here’s everything Jeremy Pruitt said after Tuesday’s practice.
Jeremy Pruitt’s opening statement:
“We played 99 plays the other night in the scrimmage. If you look at both sides of the ball, even in the kicking game, it’s kind of like we talked about, what kind of players we have on our team. We have guys that really know what to do, know how to play. They know how to execute. Same way in the kicking game, same way on offense, defense. We have very few of those guys, right? I think everyone would probably know who they are. The guys that have had success here in the past. We have a few guys like that. We have a lot of guys that have plenty of ability. They flash at times, but they’re inconsistent. And we have to get those guys to play at a higher level in all three phases. Then we have a few guys, like I said, that have ability, and for whatever reason, they don’t know what to do or how to do it. They’re just not there yet. And that’s all over the country. That’s not just at Tennessee, that’s everywhere. That’s the way fall camp goes. That’s why you see that teams that have experience tend to have success. So that’s kind of where we’re at. We have to work hard this week. We’ve set some goals offensively, defensively, and special teams to improve on this week, and we’re working hard to do that. So with that, I’ll take any questions.”
On if there is any separation at offensive line:
“We don’t really have any starters anywhere. I think we have a starting quarterback. We’ve got a few guys that I think have played some really good ball in the spring and summer and fall camp, and they continue to do that. They play at a high level. But there are lots of areas of our football team that, not only do we not have starters, we don’t know who the twos are or threes are, right? There’s lots of competition that will change daily. When you go to the stadium and scrimmage, it’s an opportunity to see how you perform out there without the coaches with you. We had some guys that performed better than others. Maybe that wasn’t some of the same guys as when we had practiced. It’s good to see, and we’ll see how they respond this week.”
On junior outside linebacker Jordan Allen’s health:
“He had a sports hernia that he’s been working hard, trying to get it back. We just decided to go ahead and fix it.
On if Allen will miss the season:
“No. We’ll figure it out.”
On freshman running back Eric Gray:
“Like a lot of young guys. I mean, he has flashes where he does a lot of really good things. He has to do things more consistent. Got to hold on to the football. He’s a guy that can help in special teams, possibly help us in the return game. So he just needs to play ball. He didn’t get to play in the spring, right? So he’s worked hard every single day to improve. I think he’s done that. He just has to continue to do that.”
On the competition at kick returner and punt returner:
“We’ve got lots of guys for punt return. Marquez Callaway has done it for a couple years; has done a nice job. Bryce (Thompson), Kenney Solomon, Jordan Murphy, Ty Chandler, Eric Gray. So we’ve got some guys back there that have worked at it. Kind of the same guys back there when it comes to kick-off return. And the punting job, it’s wide open. They’ll just continue to share duties, and we’ll see as we get closer to the season. With these two guys (at punter, Paxton Brooks and Joe Doyle), I can see it going this way. They’re in the same grade, right? This is probably a couple years worth of kind of battling, if that makes sense.”
On if one punter does something the other doesn’t:
“I think last year Joe was a little more consistent. He’s a year older, even though they’re both classified as sophomores. But Joe had a redshirt under him. That’s all Joe does is punt. Paxton does kickoffs and does field goals also, so he has a little more on his plate. But I think Paxton has worked really hard to kind of tighten down in the punting part, to be more consistent. So that’s a good sign.”
On what he saw from the defensive line in the scrimmage:
“We’ve got guys that have plenty of ability. We’ve got to learn exactly what to do all the time, and that there is consequences with our actions. So it’s really good if I run underneath the tackle and sack the quarterback, right? I mean, everybody jumps up and hollers and screams right? But it’s not really good if you run underneath the tackle and the quarterback runs for a 30-yard gain, or he runs for a five-yard gain on third-and-four, and you have the pattern matched. We have some guys that have ability. They have to learn to play within the defense. And they’ll do that. That comes with experience. It’s why we’re here, it’s why we’re practicing. Unfortunately for us, they need to play right now, right? It’s not like we have a room full of guys that are going to wait their turn. The guys that come here, they have to play immediately. And that’s why they’re here.”
On freshman defensive back Warren Burrell and what sophomores Bryce Thompson and Alontae Taylor need to improve on:
“I think a lot of people make out about Bryce (Thompson) and Alontae (Taylor). Bryce and Alontae played (last season) because they were the best players here. Does that make sense? Both of those guys have a long way to go to improve as football players. I think both players have a really good skill set to play the position. They’re different. They work hard, they like ball. So they have a chance to be good football players down the road. Are they right now? They still have a ways to go. But it’s good that Warren (Burrell) is here because he creates competition. Baylen hadn’t practiced all fall camp, so Baylen was kind of the other guy that had played, and Warren has done a good job. Does he need to get stronger? Absolutely. Does he need to improve his play at the line of scrimmage? He does. But the guy has ball skills. He’s smart, he’s coachable, he’s instinctive, and he plays with toughness. When you go out and play, he always shows up. Is he perfect? No. But he’s a freshman, right? Nobody is (perfect). It’s good that he’s here. I’m glad that he’s here to compete with those other guys. We’ve got good competition there, and we need it.”
On who won the line of scrimmage during the first scrimmage on Sunday:
“You know, it’s both sides of the ball. They’re just very inconsistent. You know, from a defensive standpoint, just lining up, right? Just line up the proper way. Based off the backfield formation, whether it’s backs in a three-point, it’s gun-near, it’s gun-far, or the Y’s off, the Y’s on. A lot of those things change how you should line up defensively. Does that make sense? If I’m a 3-tech, maybe I need to be a little bit tighter. Maybe I need to be a little bit looser, OK? Maybe I’m getting a run key here, or maybe it’s a pass key. All that changes your stance, your alignment, all these things.
“Right now we’re still … it’s like, with most of our players on the defensive line, we’re still in elementary school, OK? Aight? Hopefully this next week we can get to junior high, and then next week we can get like we’re in high school, and eventually we’ll be on the college level before the season’s over with. Does that make sense? Just in knowing those things. To me, I look at it like this: OK, we all get in the car every day. When y’all (the media) leave here, y’all are gonna get in the car, OK, and you’re gonna drive. Whether you’re going out Alcoa Highway or Kingston Pike out there, when you get out there, aight, just shut your eyes while you’re driving down the road and see how well you do, aight? ‘Cause if you don’t know the things that I’m talking about, and you’re trying to play defensive line, you’re basically playing with your eyes shut, OK? That’s not real easy to do. So we’ve got to do a good job of coaching these guys up, and they’ve got to understand it and learn it.
“We can sit in the room, and we can talk about it, right? And we can show it to ‘em, and they can get it. They can write it down — ‘uh-huh’ — and they can give you the answers and all that. But when you go out there and the heat index is 105, do they really get it? The 65th minute of practice, do they really get it? When the offense is daggum sticking it down their throat, do they really get it? I don’t know. That’s what we’re trying to do, is figure out who can and who can’t, right? So right now, we’ve got a ways to go there.
“But offensively, you know, I see guys that show promise up front. But, you know, with that position, it takes all five guys playing together up front. The offensive line, they’ve got to play together, ‘cause it only takes one ‘em to mess it up, right? One guy messes it up, the other four can do it right, it makes all five of ‘em look bad. Whereas on the defensive line, aight, three of ‘em can mess it up, and one of ‘em, aight, can really not do what he’s supposed to do, but just ‘cause he’s really good, he goes and makes a play. Then everybody thinks the defense is pretty good, right? It’s funny how those two positions are perceived. Sorry. Rambling a little bit there.”
On how junior quarterback Jarrett Guarantano performed in the first scrimmage:
“Jarrett has had a really good fall camp. Sunday was not his best day. We changed up the format of the scrimmage a little bit. Started with third downs instead of starting with a traditional team move the field. We started it with a third-down period. Just cause we needed to do that just based of the way we wanted to scrimmage. We didn’t get off to a fast start there, but we improved as the scrimmage went. The one thing about the quarterback position, Jarrett, he has the ability to make the guys around him better, and he has to do that every single day. He’s had a really good camp. He just has to make sure he improves every day.”
On what he’s looking for in the offense before the next scrimmage:
“We’ve got to eliminate penalties, offensive penalties. Pre-snap penalties. Got to do a better job communicating verbally and non-verbally. We’ve got to be better on third down. We have to finish our blocks. We’ve got to finish the play. It’s amazing how much hidden yardage is out there on every play, on both sides of the ball. And if someone just strains the last part of the play, it can go from second-and-2 to first-and-10. Or it can go from second-and-2 to second-and-7. It’s a big difference, right? So we have to finish the last part of the plays. We have to take care of the football. Not that we turn the football over a lot in the scrimmage, but we’ve got to be a team that takes care of the football, with some of the runners. But we have to make sure we’re sound when it comes to that.”
On the financial advisor that recently spoke to the team:
“We’ve had a lot of really good speakers this camp. We try to have one every single night. It’s all about education for our student-athletes. Whether it’s how to treat the opposite sex, how to be a great leader, getting the proper sleep and nutrition, drugs and alcohol, there are lots of different topics that we bring people in, and we definitely want to do something about financial planning. To make sure these guys understand — the speaker brought up, and I can remember it when I was in college because we were about the same age, some of you probably do too — when they used to sit around with credit cards out there. You could fill out an application and use a credit card for about 28 percent interest, right? They don’t really do that now around campus. What they try to do is sell you a car. They know these kids get cost of attendance checks and all this. They open up these little shops.
“Anyhow, I can go into a bunch of stuff there. We wanted to educate our guys. For them to understand that right now they could use their own money to start making a little bit of money. Paying theirselves and not spending and living check-to-check. These guys have an opportunity to come into a lot of money when they’re on scholarship, especially guys that quality for FAFSA and cost of attendance. We just want to help educate them so that when they leave here they have a plan. So they can look forward, if they come in as a mid-year guy, hey the following Christmas, I want to be able to get my mom something or my grandmother something. How do I save? How do I do that? It’s really good. We’ve tried to help our guys in lots of different areas, and we’ll continue to do that.”
On when he would like to have five offensive linemen:
“To me, I think as soon as you get comfortable. Sometimes people have a hard time being at their best. I mean, I could see as the season goes, lots of positions. One week, this guy is playing, the next week the other guy is playing. Or maybe we play two guys at one position. Who knows. The players control that, not us. Hey, my goal, maybe we have seven or eight guys (on the offensive line) that deserve to play. So you play seven or eight guys. That’s happened before, and I could see that also happening. We have lots of competition on our football team. That’s why we’re still doing two (practice) fields, right? To coach them up and help them develop as players. We’re going to continue to do that.”
On senior defensive back Baylen Buchanan:
“Unfortunately — well, actually it’s a good thing, because of our doctors. Baylen, I’ll just say it, Baylen had a couple of issues during the offseason, and basically we’ve discovered he has a kind of narrowing of the spine. So for his safety and precaution, we’re holding him out. We’ve sent him to a lot of specialists across the country, and (we’re) just kind of waiting and gathering information. He has a redshirt (available), and one thing you’ve got to figure out, right, is this something that he’s had the whole time he’s played, right? Or is this something that just kind of has happened right now? But (for) precautionary (reasons), we’ve held him out, and we’re going to continue to do that, because his safety is our first priority.”