Vols head coach Jeremy Pruitt met with the media following Wednesday’s practice to preview Saturday’s game against Auburn.
Pruitt discussed the health of Jarrett Guarantano, the development of Key Lawrence, the progression of Tennessee’s freshmen running backs, Auburn running back Tank Bigsby, the recruiting dead period being extended, and Tennessee’s tight ends.
Here’s everything Pruitt said:
“It seems like it’s been a long time since we’ve played but I know our guys are really excited about getting back out there. We really had a lot of energy out there this week, it was good to see our guys working hard. Looking at Auburn, I’ve said this before, it starts with their quarterback on offense. He’s a really good athlete, can beat you with his arm, can beat you with his feet, has a really good feel for what they are doing offensively. Good receivers, good skill players, score a lot of points, play fast. Again, defensively, kind of the same thing. When you look at what they’ve done defensively over the years, they had to replace a lot of guys from last year’s team but have really rallied together and continued to improve every week. Then special teams, I think they probably give the most diverse looks out of anybody we have seen this season. This will obviously be a tremendous challenge for us on the road. It is a great opportunity for our football team and football program and our guys are excited about going and playing.”
On Auburn running back Tank Bigsby:
“It’s interesting, I was watching tape this morning. We recruited Tank out of high school, and I see where he got the name Tank. Guys bounce off him. He’s probably one of the more physical runners in our conference. He makes a lot of guys miss, runs through contact, lots of yards after contact, returns on the kickoff return team, so he has really good hands. He’s playing really well for a young guy.”
On the health of Jarrett Guarantano:
“Jarrett is back. I think he’s had a good couple of days here getting back into the groove, so to speak. I thought our whole offense can see him making some strides there which is good to see. There seems to be more confidence on that side of the ball in practice this week. I’ll be anxious to see them play on Saturday.”
On which position group improved the most over the open week:
“I see a lot of improvement out of a lot of our guys. The guys that have made the most strides are our younger guys because they had the furthest to go and that’s normal. With the opportunities they’ve had at practice, you continue to see guys flash with ability and starting to understand the work ethic that it takes every day to develop the right habits. It’s good to see.”
On Tennessee’s tight ends:
“It’s a position that we have lost a few guys, obviously Austin Pope has played a lot of football. Really the first two games we used Riley Locklear a lot in the tight end position. Losing him after the Missouri game has added to Jacob (Warren) and Princeton (Fant) and these guys continue to improve. We need to get them more involved in the throw game. To me, you can see them get more seasoned. Obviously, they have not played a lot of ball here but this year they have an opportunity and every week they continue to improve at that position.”
On freshman defensive back Key Lawrence learning the STAR position:
“It’s one of the (toughest positions), probably with all of our positions on defense, you are involved in the run fits. When you play man-to-man you probably have to guard the best receiver on the other team. You’ve got to be a good blitzer. We ask a lot out of that position. It is a spot to where there’s lots of change of strength motions from the other team, so the multiples change as the looks differ there. He continues to pick things up really fast. He’s got good ball skills. He’s a big kid that has instincts and continues to improve every day.”
On freshman running backs Jabari Small, Dee Beckwith and Tee Hodge:
“Jabari (Small), to me, has done a really nice job the entire season. If you look at his touches – his yards after contact, making people miss – he’s done a really nice job with that. He continues to play on our special teams. He picks things up really fast, so he’s not going to do anything but continue to improve and get better.
“Tee Hodge and Dee (Beckwith) both obviously had issues back during the summer with injuries that really kind of put them behind, but they’ve stayed positive. They’ve worked hard to get healthy. Right now, both of them are bouncing back and forth from the scout team to the ones and twos. They’re bigger backs that have a little thump to them. I notice when they run against the defense over there, when those guys go to thud them up, you can tell they’re heavy. They’re guys that will continue to improve the more reps that they get.”
On why we haven’t seen much of defensive lineman Greg Emerson this season:
“Listen, this whole pandemic has affected all of us differently. For some reason, Greg (Emerson) was just, to me, in a little bit of a funk or whatever. He just didn’t have a really great fall camp and just kind of jump starting him and getting him going, but really over the last three or four weeks, I’ve seen a guy that’s really worked hard every day at practice to be a good football player. And he knows it, he sees it. It looks like he’s kind of back to his old self a little bit, so that’s good to see. He’s walking around with a smile on his face, so I’m glad to see that.”
On the health status of Alontae Taylor, Jahmir Johnson and Ty Chandler:
“They definitely have started back into the practice routine, so it’s looking promising. Hopefully, over the next two or three days they can continue to improve and get closer to 100 percent.”
On the recruiting dead period being extended into April:
“I think everybody understands the reason why and it’s very unfortunate, but we’re trying to adapt. It’s unfortunate for the recruits, really, especially for the ones for this year. Lots of them didn’t even get to take trips. Some of them may not have ever been to a college campus and they’ve got to decide where they want to go to school. We’ve worked hard to try and build relationships and kind of take our campus in Knoxville to them, wherever they’re at. The people that are involved with our players throughout our program, from Joe Scogin and his crew in academics to Rachel Pfister in nutrition to Jeronimo (Boche) and Dr. (Chris) Klenck with our athletic training. Our player development guys Patrick Abernathy, Kerry Stevenson, Kevin Simon, our recruiting staff, so there’s a lot of people here at the university that help our student-athletes on the field, off the field and throughout life. We’ve really used Ashley Smith (Assistant Athletics Director for Player Relations & Development), she’s helped launch our VFlight program. It’s really a program that’s going to help launch our players’ careers beyond football, so it’s something that we’re really proud of that we really got started. There’s lots of really good people here that are involved in recruiting and we’ve worked hard to do it. All the way when you start talking about our administration, our athletic administration, our academic administration, people across campus, they’ve been very willing to help and we couldn’t ask for any better support.”