Everything Jeremy Pruitt said about Vols’ bye week, Arkansas game

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    Photo By Kate Luffman/Tennessee Athletics

    Vols head football coach Jeremy Pruitt met with the media on Monday to recap Tennessee’s bye week and preview Saturday’s game against Arkansas.

    Pruitt discussed quarterback reps, Tennessee’s COVID-19 schedule, the practice schedule this week, working on the fundamentals, if leadership developed during the bye week, and players working at different positions during practice last week in an effort to get them on the field.

    Here’s everything Pruitt had to say.

    Opening statement:

    “Looking at Arkansas, been really impressed with how they’ve come together as a team. You look at them, defensively to start with — Barry Odom, I think has done a fantastic job. They’ve created a lot of different looks in the secondary, have created a lot of turnovers. I believe they lead the country in interceptions, been very opportunistic there. Tons of eight-drop, rushing three guys, and getting out, getting into coverage, mixing it up there. Offensively, they’ve played with a lot of speed on offense, snapping the ball a lot of times. As the season’s went, probably been more efficient offensively, creating some explosive plays. And then you look at them in special teams, you obviously can see guys that have ability as kickers, and they have return guys there. They’ve kind of bounced around and had a couple of guys, but it looks like they’re settling in on who they have as return guys. For us, in this open week, it was a great opportunity to go back to the basics, which we did — just kind of going back through the early days of install, trying to catch some guys up, and it was a good opportunity to do that and move some guys around to possibly create opportunities for guys that have worked hard in practice, really to see and to give them an opportunity.”

    On the COVID-19 test results for the Vols after the players had Friday and Saturday of the bye week off:

    “With the COVID stuff, we get tested on Sundays — Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays — so the results, they should be coming in any time now.”

    Which players were moved around to different positions during the bye week:

    “But, yeah, we moved several guys around a little bit, especially in the secondary. We moved Keshawn Lawrence to STAR and let him get some work there, just to see what he looks like at that position. He’s a guy that’s continued to work hard in practice. The guys in front of him at corner — you know, he hasn’t gotten a lot of opportunity there during the games, but we thought he played well. In the games that he’s played in, he’s done pretty well, so we looked him at STAR just to get more production at that position. So he’ll possibly get an opportunity on Saturday.”

    On young players he had his eyes on during the bye week:

    “Well, Dee Beckwith’s a guy that, he didn’t participate any during the summer — done absolutely nothing — and then, when fall camp gets here, he obviously is back into quarantine again. Then, he turns his ankle. But he’s a guy that we looked at a little bit at tight end, but we’re starting to look at, at running back, that has size and speed. Tee Hodge is another guy that was injured during fall camp that’s kind of getting his legs back under him a little bit. Seen a little more burst and speed out of him. So there’s lots of guys. I could go through the whole roster. But we need more depth at running back. We’ve really played three guys for the year and have been very fortunate that those guys have stayed healthy, so we need to get those guys more of an opportunity. And another guy that was doing really well was Len’Neth Whitehead. He had been out because of his foot injury, but come back and was doing really well. But, unfortunately, he hurt his shoulder last week in camp, and probably going to do surgery on it in the next week to get him back in time for spring ball.”

    On how Tennessee split up the quarterback reps during the bye week:

    “We repped three groups last week, so we went back and didn’t have enough to do four, but we did do three groups, so we split the quarterbacks amongst those three groups and got them a lot of reps there.”

    On how different Feleipe Franks looks at Arkansas compared to Florida:

    “Feleipe, to me, is a guy that I’m very familiar with. I started recruiting him when I coached at Florida State. He was in, like, the eighth or ninth grade. Very talented guy, multi-sport guy. He’s really a big man, and a really good athlete. Has as strong an arm as anybody in our conference. I thought he played well at Florida. Two years in a row there, they won 10 games. I know he got hurt last year, but he’s came back. You can tell that he’s got experience and making a lot of plays for them.”

    On what he learned about the defensive line during the bye week:

    “Well, we’ve got to play lower. To me, every play, we should be 4 to 6 inches lower than what we are. We don’t have a lot of really large men. There’s a couple of guys, but all of us need to play lower, play with more leverage. We need to play on the other side of the line of scrimmage. We need to able to convert from — a lot of times in college back now, a lot of RPOs, a lot of play actions off the run fakes — being able to convert from run blocks to pass blocks. Had a lot of really good work this week and continue to see improvement there. So it’s a lot of positives. We’ll see how we do on Saturday.”

    On Tennessee’s practice schedule this week with the election on Tuesday:

    “Well, for us, it was pretty easy because we were off last week. We just came in yesterday and done our Monday or Sunday practice, and today we’ll do practice number two and take tomorrow off, so there’s not a lot of shakeup with us.”

    On Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman:

    “I never worked with Sam (at Georgia). We just kind of missed each other. I’ve known him for a pretty good while, had a ton of respect for him as an offensive line coach. Really, really good person. Now that he’s been at Arkansas, we’ve talked on the phone a couple of times and really enjoyed it. Of course, him and Jim (Chaney)’s relationship and familiarity with each other, and just a lot of people within Knoxville that have talked about him. Very likable guy. I think he’s doing a really, really good job, and you can see it. His team’s playing hard and playing together. I think he’s doing a great job.”

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    On if Key Lawrence was the only defensive back moved around during practice last week:

    “Well, you know, just kind of moving some pieces. Bryson Eason’s at outside linebacker. We took ‘Pakk’ (Kwauze) Garland and moved him to inside linebacker to create a little more depth there at that position. That’s a couple of guys there. Morven Joseph is working inside and outside. Normally, these things happen, if you have during the summer, during the summertime. During June and July, you can see these guys move around a little bit, and you get a little clearer picture of what position they should play. And you get probably 14 really hard days of camp to kind of see it. Some of these guys didn’t get to do it, so after going through the first five weeks of practice here, it’s an opportunity for us to kind of put them in positions that we can see them for their future.”

    On Arkansas’ rushing attack:

    “If you look at Arkansas’ run game, I thought last week they done a really nice job getting the ball on the perimeter. Some of that was some designed quarterback-read stuff. I think (Arkansas offensive coordinator) Kendal Briles has done a really nice job of mixing in the RPOs. Really, the wide receivers have really plus splits, so they’ve been able to get the ball out on the perimeter. It’s not been as congested there. And I feel like they block really well up front. They’ve used two tight ends, and whether it’s counter schemes, running it same side or the other side, stretch schemes, inside zone, split zone. And then, the other night, they probably got lots of yardage on Feleipe just scrambling. He probably scrambled for 50 yards there, so really done a nice job up front. I think their wide receivers have blocked well on the perimeter. And, if you look at us, first thing is, don’t turn the ball over. All of us coaches, we have a thing where you look each week on turnovers, and you look across the league or you look across — we usually do it across the league — what’s everybody’s record based off the turnover margin? So the three games that we’re in the red in turnover margin, we’ve lost. The two games that we’re in the positive area, we’ve won. And that’s kind of that way all the way across the conference, so, number one, we can’t turn the ball over — period. So got to be able to take care of the football. How do you do that? You do it by being clean up front, from the offensive line to the tight ends to the running backs, wide receivers protecting the football. And then, to me, we’ve got to get turnovers, you know? Had way too many dropped interceptions. Not causing enough fumbles, so that’s something that we focused on — something we always focus on, but for whatever reason, we’ve not been very opportunistic. And we’ve got to finish when we get our hands on the ball.”

    On his familiarity with Arkansas’ personnel:

    “Well, it’s the first time I’ve coached against Arkansas since the ‘16, ‘17 seasons, and you can really see on their roster the difference in the talent level from ‘17 until now. The last couple of years, they’ve done a really nice job recruiting some good, young, talented guys in there, so I’m probably not as familiar with their roster in itself. There’s several guys that’s on their team that we recruited at one stop or the other but didn’t get them, so we know that they’ve got some really talented players.”

    On if the team improved fundamentally during the week and if it’s possibly to become a more fundamental team in a short amount of time:

    “Yeah, I think absolutely, you can. We spent lots of times just in individual (drills), where we kind of go back and working on things that you do the first, second, third, fourth, fifth day at practice. We kind of have ABCs that we do every day, (whether) it’s some kind of block protection, some kind of tackling, some kind of turnover drill where you’re handling the football, some kind of footwork. You have these things that you do on, whether it’s Sunday or Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. But there’s nothing like going back, and they’re kind of clean-ups, as far as when you get to the season. But there’s nothing like going back and spending 30 minutes a day just on fundamentals, teaching progression, conceptually so kids understand exactly what they’re doing.”

    On freshmen defensive lineman Omari Thomas and Dominic Bailey:

    “Dom Bailey and Omari Thomas both have really good talent. Dom’s not played much this year — or I don’t think he’s played any this year. He’s still learning and growing. There’s a big difference when you walk in there and you’re going to strike a guy in front of you that’s 22 years old instead of 16 years old, you know? So some of that comes with time. I think Dom’s got lots of ability. When you look at Omari, he’s played more and more each game. I think the longer he plays, he’s going to continue to improve. He’s one of these guys that has to learn to play lower, just from a leverage standpoint, and he’s working hard to do that.”

    On if he saw more leadership evolve during the bye week:

    “I felt like all along we’ve had good leadership. We’ve had good practices. We’ve had good energy. If we take care of the football and create more turnovers, we’ll be a much better football team. Some of the circumstances that some of the guys have had — it’s mainly younger guys — they couldn’t control that, and I think our guys have worked really hard. I see the guys in the office all the time, you know? Everywhere I’ve coached, I’m used to players being in the office constantly, right? The first year, we’re having to drag them up here. Kids are up here all the time, studying, trying to be the best player they can possibly be.”

    On if Brian Maurer, J.T. Shrout, and Harrison Bailey received more reps during the bye week:

    “Well, yeah. We went back to fall camp. In fall camp, we usually work four groups all the time, and everybody gets the same amount of reps at every position. That’s why we believe that players develop. It’s because we spend that much time working on four groups. We split the staff up. We watch every bit of the tape. This past week, we kept some guys out of practice to help them heal up a little bit — a few guys — so we only worked three groups. But we still went back to camp mode. We worked very little on future opponents. We worked more on ourselves and the fundamental part, so just like I said, Day One, Two, Three, Four, Five of install, just trying to get back to the basics. I think it was good for a lot of players in our program, and it’s something that you can’t do in a game week. You can do a little bit, like every day. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, we work on opponent, but we always do good-on-good. So it’s good-on-good 7-on-7. It’s good-on-good team run. It’s good-on-good team move-the-field. Just for the competition standpoint, you need it. You don’t want to always be going against the scout team.”