Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt met with the media on Wednesday afternoon shortly after the Vols finished up their Wednesday practice session. The second-year head coach covered a myriad of topics during his media availability, ranging from Tennessee’s upcoming opponent to his assessment of the Vols’ offensive line play.
Here’s everything Pruitt said after practice on Wednesday.
“Had a lively practice out there today. It’s good to see our guys continue to work hard. I thought especially this week our quarterbacks, all three of them, have thrown the ball extremely well, have done a much better job handling the offense. We continue to get some guys back, which is good for our football team. You look at last week, in the bye week, lots of things we had to improve on. I feel like our guys have worked hard to take some of that stuff from last week back into this week. So very positive practice.
“Guys continue to do well in the kicking game with our kickers. Rested Brent (Cimaglia) a little bit today just because we kicked a lot of balls last week — get his leg back. Having Bryce (Thompson) back changes things up a little bit in the return game, so it’s good to see him out there getting an opportunity to do some of that again. He was a guy that probably would’ve been our starting punt returner at the beginning of the season. So trying to get him back in there, ready to go. With that, I’ll take any questions.”
On what he wants to achieve against Georgia:
“Well, we want to achieve the same thing we do every week. We want to be at our best. As a coaching staff, as players. Anybody that touches our organization. There’s very few opportunities, when you talk about how much time you put into it. Starting in January, in offseason conditioning, and through spring practice, summer conditioning, fall camp. You’re guaranteed 12 opportunities to really show what you’ve done and how hard you’ve worked through the offseason. We got a fantastic challenge Saturday. Our guys are looking forward to it. You want to play teams like this, in games like this. It will be a good opportunity for our football team.”
On the quarterback situation:
“I think really with the two younger guys, it’s the fifth week of the year, really the sixth with the off week. You get to work a little bit of a game plan last week, so it’s a little longer prep for one team, so it gives them another opportunity. For Jarrett (Guarantano), it’s an opportunity. He’s had really good practices the entire year. He’s looking forward to get a chance to improve himself, just like we all are in our program. When you look at our body of work that we see every single day, how hard everybody’s working to prepare to be at their best, and we’ve not been there, and the measuring stick is on Saturdays. It’s why we do it, it’s why we got in the business, why we’re here. This will be a great opportunity for us.”
On the different offensive line combinations:
“Well, we have a different group almost every day because Trey (Smith) doesn’t practice, so we move guys around. Jahmir (Johnson) has been out. He’s getting back, so we’ve had to shuffle some guys around. We’ve had some younger guys, Chris Akporoghene is back, so just figuring out who the best seven or eight, nine guys are that give us the best opportunity to win. Some guys have to play multiple spots, and Darnell (Wright) is a guy that can do that. We’ll see as the week goes.”
On if Daniel Bituli and Henry To’o To’o can afford the heavy snap counts:
“Well, you know, your goal as a coach is everybody that is able to play at a winning level, you want them to play at it, right? I think you can look at Georgia’s defense right now. They have lots of experience on the defensive side of the ball. They’ve created some packages to give some of these guys opportunities. It’s something kind of, everyone in our system so to speak, we’ve always tried to do, is give people opportunities to play. If you go back and look, we did that the first game of the year. We had a lot of guys that were very close in competition. Some guys who had played here, some guys who hadn’t. It’s really close in fall camp, so you give guys an opportunity to contribute to the football team. Then as the season goes you want to figure hey, maybe this is a guy we need to take off the field. There has been times over the years we played certain linebackers in regular (packages), then maybe a different one swaps out in nickel. Maybe another guy plays in dime. Then we get in the ballgame and, hey, maybe a team is playing more of a certain personnel and we don’t feel like we got our best players on the field, we have to swap guys out. So it changes from week to week.”
On what is holding back the offensive line:
“If you look at our offensive line, I’ll start with Brandon Kennedy. Brandon, this is the first time that he’s probably been this healthy in his college career, so he’s had an opportunity to practice every day. Offensive line’s a developmental position. The only way to get good at it is to do it over and over and over. That’s why you see, teams that can retain, you’ll see guys that maybe didn’t play their freshman, sophomore, sometimes junior year. And then, their senior year, they’re a really good SEC football player. Everybody develops kind of at a different pace, so some guys, maybe they had more opportunity when they were in high school. Whether it was who was coaching them or the resources around them, to be ready and be prepared for college. Maybe it was because they were a mid-year as opposed to a guy that comes in during the summer and they get 15 extra practices. Our guys up front have continued to work hard and compete. I felt like our best game as an offensive line, since I’ve been here, was the Florida game, and we scored three points. We’ve got to improve up there, stay on guys. We’ve got a couple of penalties. We got a hands-to-a-face when we gained 8 yards on a run. We throw the ball down the field early in the game, break some tackles and, for the first time, I see white shirts running down the field trying to pepper people like they’re supposed to. Now, we can’t hit them after the whistle. But there was lots of glimpses there in that game from how far we’ve come since the first game we coached here. Our guys will continue to work. They’re young. They’re going to improve and get better. We’ve got competition up there now.”
On the progress of the defensive pass rush:
“One thing that we really had to focus on, to me I felt like our defensive line has improved in playing the run. I’m going to tell you, this week they’ll have a tremendous challenge because I think these guys run the football probably better than anybody in college football. They have experience up there with the left tackle, Andrew Thomas is a great player. They have Solomon, Trey Hill, Cade Mays, Isaiah Wilson, Ben Cleveland, Schaffer. That’s seven guys. And they probably have got some more. Sawyer is up there. They have some big men who have played together. Have really good running backs that can push you there. So that will be a tremendous challenge for us.
“One thing we have to do, and we have struggled with this year, to me, is converting on play-action passes. Going from power to speed and converting the pass rush. We have to improve there. A lot of that is awareness. Every team that you play, all the great ones, they all have telltale signs. It’s something that you have to be aware of as a defensive player. Whether it’s the location of the running back, location of the tight end, who is in the game, stances of the O-linemen. All these things that can help you pre-snap. So our guys, they’re improving in that area and they’ll continue to get better the more experience they get.”
On how much attention senior outside linebacker Darrel Taylor is receiving:
“You know, to play winning football and to be a really good football player, you have to do the details. You have to create the right habits every week. And sometimes when things don’t go your way in pass rush, it can be because the ball gets out. Some teams maybe seven-man protect or maybe they’re chipping. Darrell, along with everybody up front, we have to improve our pass rush. Again, I go back to the details of just being the master of your position, understanding what the other team is trying to do to you. Have some pre-snap clues. And kind of staying the course a little bit. He’s a guy that has really good talent. He’s really improved as a player. But he needs, like everyone else in our program, he needs to raise his level of play like we all do.”
On Georgia running back D’Andre Swift:
“You know, he’s a guy that’s not very tall with his stature, but the way he’s built, he’s built very powerful and strong. He’s low to the ground. He has really good balance and body control. He has great vision, good patience as a runner. You know, there’s some running backs that take a lot of licks. He don’t take a lot of licks. If he ever gets hit, it’s because he wanted to do the hitting. He does a great job of setting up defenders, running through the soft shoulder, and he has home-run speed. He’s one of the better backs in college football, and he has been for a couple of years.”
On the health of Alontae Taylor and Warren Burrell:
“Well anytime you compete at practice the way we do, and as much live stuff, you’re going to get guys a little dinged up. We can’t sit here as a football team and say hey, we have to worry about staying healthy. We have to be smart about how we practice. We have to stay off the ground. Unfortunately both of these guys were jumping for balls or something and got a little tweak in the ankle or something. I think both of them will be fine for Saturday. But you know it’s part of it. And if we have to play with Kenneth (George) or Shawn Shamburger or Kenny Solomon, those guys will be ready to play.”
On the familiarity with SEC teams at this point in the season:
“Most everybody in this league are familiar with each other. You kind of have a catalog. I guess the guys that have kind of coached under the same defensive family, or offensive family, that’s the way it is now all across this league, people get opportunities and people move and staffs change up. Everybody pulls something from the last place they’ve been. And the way technology is today. You can walk in there and flip on any college game or any pro game and have the film cut up. So you can see, hey, what’s the explosive runs, what’s the explosive passes, who is giving up the sacks and why. There’s so much information that’s out there. So it’s very easy to take from somebody else and kind of make it your own a little bit. But yeah I think everybody wants to call what our players know. You want your players to play fast. But at the same time, you always want to create a few more wrinkles to give them something.
“I think, you look at their quarterback (Jake Fromm), you don’t trick this guy. I’ve coached against him two years, I think we might have got him two times in I don’t know how many plays; 160 plays. Where we felt like he didn’t throw the ball or have them in the right play. That’s a pretty good batting percentage for him. There are very few out there that i’ve seen like that. It’s one of the reasons they’re successful on offense.”