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Everything Jeremy Pruitt said to kickoff Florida week

Vols head coach Jeremy Pruitt met with the media on Monday afternoon to kickoff Florida week.

Pruitt previewed the Gators, discussed the team’s current COVID-19 situation, what Tennessee accomplished over the open week, updated the health of kicker Brent Cimaglia, and how the team has improved over the course of the season.

Here’s everything Pruitt had to say:

Opening Statement:

“Hope everybody had a good Thanksgiving weekend. I know we’re excited to be back. We got our guys back in here on Saturday and started going over some things – getting prepped for Florida and just continuing there. When you look at Florida, I think right now they’re playing as good as any team in the country. Offensively, they’ve been very efficient especially at the quarterback position. Kyle Trask has done a phenomenal job getting the ball to the right playmakers, knows where to go with the ball. We’re familiar with him. We played him last year. He played really well against us. I think they’ve got probably the best tight end in the country in Kyle Pitts. Nobody has really been able to slow him down. The thing has really impressed me the most about him, just in his game, everybody knew he was a very good receiving tight end, but I think you could just look at this season and he’s done a tremendous job blocking in the C-area that has really elevated his game. Nobody really talks about that, but I see it. I see the way he’s playing. (Florida’s) got really good running backs. Got a bunch of wide receivers. Got experience on the d-line. Todd Grantham has always been a guy that creates negative plays – gives you a bunch of different looks. (UF) has been very opportunistic on that side of the ball. In special teams, they have really good specialists and got really good returners so it’ll be a huge challenge for us. Our guys are excited about playing this game.

“Obviously, we didn’t get a chance to play last week. We’ve not had any new COVID positives from our last testing (Sunday). We do have some guys that are in quarantine that won’t be able to practice this week, but will be able to play on game day. It’s an unusual circumstance, but we’re working through it and the next guys are getting ready to play. We’ve got a full week this week and we’re excited about playing Florida.”

On if he thinks having a high-scoring offense is more important to win games than a good defense:

“Well, I think that there’s more points being scored now than ever, especially in this league. This has traditionally been a defensive dominated league, but over the last probably three or four years, you can see that it’s changing a little bit. There’s been days that some of the best teams who had the best defenses, their offenses have to cover for them. You’ve got to win a game 42-38 or 46-41 or something. You’ve got to be able to score points. I think, especially when you look at this season, with a 10-game SEC schedule and the grind of it, the teams that have been really explosive on offense probably have created an advantage for them just because the games probably have not been as physical. If you score a lot of points and the other team is trying to catch up, there’s not as much ground to pound and so I think you’ve definitely seen that.”

On what has prevented Tennessee from scoring points:

“Well I can assure you we won’t score every possession. I mean we’ve talked about this over and over. We’ve had turnovers. We’ve had penalties, lack of execution. I can assure you that it’s not our plan to go out there and score 17 points. We want to score as many as we can.”

On how tough it will be to prevent Florida from scoring early:

“I think Dan (Mullen) has always done a really good job as a play caller based on the personnel that he has on his team. You look at them right now, they’re efficient running the football. They’re efficient throwing the football. They get the ball to a lot of different receivers and a lot of different running backs. So, he’s always done a fantastic job mixing it up. Probably now, they’re throwing it more than they ever have based off his team. He’s got a really good quarterback with a good surrounding cast. That’s not to say they couldn’t go run the ball a whole bunch of times and win the same amount of games. I think they’re excellent running the football. But, he’s just playing to his strengths. I think he’s always done a really good job. It’s not just the opening drive. It’s the entire game.”

On defending an opponent’s opening drive when they have plays scripted:

“You start with the opening drive, start with third downs, short yardage, goal line, red area, coming out, two minute… there’s all these different situations during the game that you kind of got to go back and dig up history and see what they’ve done in the past. They’re always going to have changeups and sometimes when you’ve coached against guys as long as we’ve coached against each other, there might be too much history. Obviously, what they’re doing right now is not what he (Dan Mullen) did when he was at Mississippi State, so you really have to go over what they’ve done right now. But you can see he pulls out things he’s done over the last 10 or 12 years and it’ll show up in a game, so you really got to be ready for everything.”

On what Tennessee has worked on during its extra practices:

“Well, we’ve had three off weeks in the last five weeks, so it’s been an opportunity for a lot of younger guys to take a lot of reps. The more you do something, the better you get at it. For a lot of the older guys, we had a lot of guys that have been in and out of the lineup and one thing about any sport or anything you want to do, you want to kind of get in a routine, so being able to kind of get in a routine and practice and create some consistency within a group has been important. This past week was a little different than the previous off weeks because we had a lot of guys that were out of practice, so we didn’t have the volume of work load like we’ve done in the previous weeks so a little more walk throughs, a lot more teaching just to be able to be productive.”

On how many players weren’t available to practice last week due to quarantine:

“We’ve had two guys test positive but it dates back to when we came back from Auburn, but unfortunately with the contact tracing that number has grown a pretty good bit there. It’s knocked us out of a lot of the guys, which they’ll start coming back in here toward the end of this week.”

On how Florida quarterback Kyle Trask has improved from last season:

“Well he’s got more experience. He’s really done a nice job getting the balls to the playmakers. He’s made a lot of really good decisions (and) he’s not made a lot of poor decisions. He has enough athletic ability to extend plays. I think he’s played really, really well.”

On if any of the quarterbacks have been affected by contact tracing:

“We’ve had one that’s been affected. Listen, the whole part of it is I’ve tried to be as transparent as we can with it. We can’t say exactly who, but these guys that are out there practicing are working hard to create chemistry with our guys, so we’ll continue to do that this week.”

On if the team practiced over the weekend:

“We only had a walkthrough on Saturday, we didn’t practice on Sunday.”

On preparing a true freshman to start:

“It starts, probably, with knowledge. For this freshman class, we had some guys that were midyear, but they didn’t get the chance to go through spring ball and that probably hurt them. Just creating the right habits, knowledge – knowing what you’re supposed to do, how you’re supposed to do it and why you are supposed to do it that way is important. Being able to be mature enough to come work every day at practice to compete because everybody sees it. Our freshman class, we have a lot of really good football players in there and these guys continue to be positive and work hard as the season has gone you have seen more and more of them play.”

On playing at home for the first time in six weeks:

“We are absolutely looking forward to it. It seems like it’s been forever since we’ve had a home game. We will be excited to be back in Neyland. Obviously, it is a huge advantage for us to play at home. Our crowd has been great this year at every game. We will need them to be that way again on Saturday.”

On how the program has dealt with the adversity of COVID-19 this season:

“It’s late in the year now, so we’ve kind of gotten used to it. It started on March 12 for our players and everybody in our program and everything changed. We’ve been working hard to adapt, and I feel like our staff has done an outstanding job continuing to do that. One thing that I am proud of is Dr. (Chris) Klenck, Jeronimo (Boche) and the medical staff have done a phenomenal job protecting our guys and protecting everybody in our organization and our kids have responded to it. That’s a huge deal for us.”

On how he would assess Tennessee’s defense has defended opposing tight ends this season:

“It doesn’t matter how we’ve defended them, none of them have been like this (Kyle Pitts). In all my year’s coaching, I believe he is the most talented guy we have ever played against. He’s a guy that can line up and win one-on-ones against corners, one-on-ones against safeties, linebackers. Like I said, he’s really improved in blocking the interior part. He’s a complete football player and playing as good as anybody in our conference.”

On the development of Harrison Bailey this season:

“I really don’t think the issue is the playbook. Harrison is a smart guy who has worked really hard. It’s been more about opportunities and getting live opportunities. He’s had a chance to do more and more of that as the season has gone. When you just talk about the volume of work, playing a little bit at the end of the Kentucky game, the Arkansas game and a couple of weeks ago against Auburn has been really good for him, just for the speed of the game to prepare him for the future. That’s been really, really good. He works hard every single day. He’s developing more leadership around the rest of his teammates. That’s part of being a quarterback is getting the other 10 guys to be at their best. He continues to do what we ask him to do.”

On if it would be hard to play a quarterback who has missed two weeks of practice:

“Well, it would be hard to play anyone. Jaylen McCollough did it a little bit against South Carolina. He played a few plays in that game. Warren Burrell did it also this year. It’s not ideal, but the one thing about it, is when you are in contact tracing is that you can still workout and stay in shape, it just has to be in a confined environment. They get a chance to watch the meetings via Zoom and they get to see the game plan, they just don’t get a chance to experience the reps.”

On if the secondary to be at full strength against Florida:

“We’ve got guys that have really pushed through the entire year. It’s just been an unusual year. Some of it has really been from the fact that the start and stop has affected some individuals a bit more than others. So, whoever we have Saturday will go out there and play to the best of their ability and they’ll play together.”

On where the team has improved most over the course of the season:

“Creating depth. Like I said, we had a lot of young guys affected all the way back in fall camp. It’s why we started the scrimmages on Sunday nights and when we’ve had these off weeks, we’ve treated them like fall camp, except for this past week. So, it’s been really good for a lot of young players and to create depth on our team, because we’re going to need it down the stretch here.”

On the health of kicker Brent Cimaglia:

“He’s working to get there. I don’t know for sure that he is. He came back when we got here in June with a little bit of a knee injury and he’s worked his way through it throughout the season. Again, he’s a guy that we believe in. He’s been almost automatic since we’ve been here and when he’s healthy, he’s one of the best players in the country at that position.”

On the challenge of facing Florida and Texas A&M to end the season:

“We’re focused on Florida right now and that’s enough to focus on. They’ve got a really good football team. They’re really well coached and like I said, they’ll present a lot of different challenges for us. It’s a great opportunity. It’s a great opportunity for everyone in our program and it’s something that we’re looking forward to.”

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