Tennessee was scheduled to hold a scrimmage on Saturday afternoon inside of Neyland Stadium. COVID-19 protocols altered those plans, however.
The Vols were forced to hold a regular practice instead of a scrimmage, but even the regular practice wasn’t all that normal. Tennessee was without 44 players due to a multitude of reasons, most of which were related to COVID. “Seven or eight” players missed due to positive COVID-19 tests according to head coach Jeremy Pruitt, while “27 or 28″ missed due to contact tracing. Others missed due to injury.
“We had slated for a scrimmage, really had one slated for Wednesday and was going to back it up to today, but we didn’t scrimmage, got way too many guys out,” Pruitt said during a media session on Zoom. “We had 44 players that didn’t practice today, and they hadn’t practiced, probably for the last three or four practices. Just didn’t think that was wise to scrimmage. Just went with a normal practice. Only got 30 offensive players that were able to practice, so really focused on two groups.”
Pruitt indicated that the offensive line room and wide receiver position were the units affected the most by absences. Still, it was the offensive side of the ball that left Pruitt pleased with how they performed during Saturday’s practice.
“You know I’ve really been excited about our offensive unit because today we had 31 offensive players that didn’t practice,” Pruitt said. “And these guys continue to play together. They play with an attitude. I’ve been excited about them.”
On the other side of the ball — not so much. Three weeks through fall camp, Pruitt is searching for answers along the front seven following the departure of Darrell Taylor to graduation. Pruitt’s front seven seems to be struggling to adjust to the departure of Taylor through the first couple of weeks through camp.
“Defensively to me it has been very disappointing, especially up front,” Pruitt said. “Just lack of physicality to finish. So it’s something that we definitely have to improve on over the next three weeks.”
Tennessee recorded 34 sacks last season. Following the departure of Taylor who had a team-high 8.5 sacks, the Vols return 6.5 sacks at edge rusher from a season ago. Along the defensive line, they return 9.5 sacks from 2019.
Pruitt and the Vols will continue to address the lack of physicality up front leading up to their season-opener against South Carolina on Sept. 26 in Columbia. They’ll return home to face Missouri on Oct. 3 in the home-opener a week later.