Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt isn’t known for mincing his words. While he’ll give some coach speak from time to time, he’s usually pretty blunt with his assessments. That rang especially true on Wednesday.
Pruitt made his weekly appearance on the Vol Calls call-in radio show on Wednesday evening, and he gave some very strong quotes about his team throughout the session.
One caller asked Pruitt if any other players on UT’s roster have the same fire and passion that redshirt senior wide receiver Jauan Jennings does. While Pruitt said that he believes some of Tennessee’s players understand what it means to don the orange and white, there are still some who are “figuring it out.”
“Yeah, we have a lot of guys that are mature, that understand the importance, that Tennessee means a lot to them,” Pruitt explained. “And we have a lot of guys that are just figuring it out. It’s a process.”
For Vol fans who watched Saturday’s debacle against Georgia State or the Vols’ last two games of the 2018 season against Missouri and Vanderbilt, Pruitt’s statement rings true. Players like Jauan Jennings, Trey Smith, and a few others were noticeably more fired up and seemed to have more skin in the game than others.
Along that same vein, Pruitt was asked later in the show about his team’s attitude through adversity. Tennessee has already had three players transfer off the football roster over the last three weeks — Maleik Gray in August and Terrell Bailey and Jordan Murphy this week — and Pruitt says there could be more who choose to leave the program in the future.
“It’s like I told the kids today, when things don’t go your way, what are you supposed to do? You’re supposed to put on more steam, right?” Pruitt said. “We probably got a few of them that might not be with us. Some of them’s done left. There might be a few more, but that’s okay. They need to get out of our way, because we’ve got a bunch of them over there that are heading in the right direction.”
Pruitt didn’t specify further on the players who he felt might not be in the right mindset, but it’s clear he still sees some players on the roster who aren’t moving in the same direction as everyone else. The fact that three players have transferred over the last few weeks is certainly evidence enough of that.
Those quotes aren’t necessarily new info for Vol fans, though. Fans know from Saturday’s embarrassing loss that things aren’t where they need to be from some of UT’s players in terms of mentatility. But Pruitt gave another very telling quote during Vol Calls that speaks to how he views his defense right now, and it isn’t encouraging.
Tennessee’s second-year head coach has headed up some of the best defenses in college football the last half decade. He knows what a good defensive player looks like, and he’s had plenty of physical freaks on his various rosters. When asked by a caller if Tennessee has any defensive players on the team who would make the opponent scared just by looking at him or lining up in front of him, Pruitt couldn’t give a name of any specific player based off Saturday’s performance.
“I would say absolutely none of them,” Pruitt stated. “You know, I’ve coached a few that, when the ball was turned over or when they come out of the tunnel, you could see the other team looking down there and saying, ‘Hey, there’s so-and-so.’ It’s based off what you put on tape, right? So I don’t know anybody that played Saturday that’s going to have the other team scared of them.”
Senior linebacker Daniel Bituli didn’t play on Saturday as he continued to recover from a minor knee procedure he underwent near the tail end of fall camp, and cornerback Bryce Thompson was suspended for the game and remains suspended indefinitely.
Those two absences certainly hurt UT’s defense, but it shouldn’t have led to as poor of a performance that was given.
The Vols let up over 200 rushing yards to Georgia State, and Tennessee failed to pick off a pass and let Panthers quarterback Dan Eillington throw for two scores.
Pruitt has said multiple times in 2019 that he really likes his team. He said as much even as recently as Monday during his weekly press conference. But just because he likes them doesn’t mean the team is in the shape they need to be in, and it doesn’t make them exempt from the kind of honesty Pruitt has doled out.
“I like this team,” Pruitt said on Monday. “Just because I like them doesn’t mean we’re where we need to be.”