Tennessee held its third practice of fall camp on Friday, and its first in shells since its preparation for the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl match up against Indiana back in January.
Following the Vols first appearance in minimal contact after having missed nearly all of spring practice in March, Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt spoke with the media via Zoom, speaking highly of the progression of his offense through three days of camp.
“Today was our third practice, first day in shells,” Pruitt said. “We didn’t get a chance to do that in the spring, so I know our players were excited to have a chance to strike people up front and finish with thuds and (being) a little closer to football. Over the last three days our offense continues to improve as far as how fast we’re getting lined up, getting the calls in, communicating, taking care of the football.”
One area where Pruitt cited his approval during Friday’s practice was the offensive line in particular, especially where communication and chemistry is concerned. Pruitt attributed that chemistry to offensive conditioning and training.
“I was really pleased with our offensive line today,” Pruitt said. “They continued to improve and develop some chemistry up there. We’re playing a lot of guys. (We have) a lot of guys getting a lot of different opportunities up there. (We’re) moving some guys around, but you can tell from a conceptual standpoint we’re a lot further ahead than we probably were when we practiced in the spring thanks to the OTAs we had this summer.”
It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise of the early growth of the Vols offensive line at this point in fall camp, especially considering they return one of the most talented and experienced fronts in the SEC.
In 2020, the group will consist of a pair of former five-star prospects from the 2019 class in Darnell Wright and Wanya Morris. The duo combined for 17 starts a season ago. Sixth-year senior Brandon Kennedy and 2019 All-SEC First Team selection Trey Smith did so as well.
This time last season, Smith’s football career appeared in dire straits after missing most of his sophomore season in 2018 due to blood clots. A plan put forward by Tennessee’s medical staff not only allowed Smith to participate in practice last year, but contribute in the 2019 season-opener against Georgia State before earning back his starting role the rest of the season by week two.
After barely practicing throughout last season, Pruitt is confident he’ll be able to do more this year.
“Well, he definitely will be doing more than he did last year because last year he did zero,” Pruitt said. “With the season being pushed back and with the way we’ve spread practice out — 25 practices, I think over 36 days or 42 days, whatever it is — there’s breaks in between, so it’s going to allow him to get several practices during camp.”
While there is plenty of optimism surrounding Tennessee’s offensive line, the addition of Georgia transfer Cade Mays would more than add to that optimism. At least for now, Mays will have to sit out the 2020 season after having his eligibility waiver denied by the NCAA, although UT is petitioning that ruling.
Pruitt said on Friday that Mays continues to work with the team and the offensive line, while also pleading the 6-foot-6, 320-pound junior transfer’s case for immediate eligibility.
“We two-spot so everybody gets the same amount of reps, so Cade (Mays) is in there working just like everybody else,” Pruitt said. “He’s working hard everyday, just like he’s going to.
“It would be very disappointing on many levels if any kid, in this pandemic, is denied the opportunity to play.”