Vols head coach Jeremy Pruitt met with the media following Wednesday’s practice to discuss the latest with his football team prior to Saturday’s matchup against No. 6 Florida.
Pruitt discussed preparing players a game in which they’ll be coming out of quarantine the night before or morning of the game, young players developing, what he’s seen from Martavius French and Cooper Mays, how far behind this freshmen class is due to COVID, and why Tennessee hasn’t run the jumbo package as much lately.
Here’s everything Pruitt had to say following practice:
“I feel like over the last couple of weeks, not having an opportunity to play, we’ve got a lot of really good work in, got some guys healthy. Our guys continue to bring a lot of energy and effort every day to practice. Love their attitude, willingness to keep improving. I know they’re excited about Saturday. We’re excited about the opportunity to be back in Neyland, playing against a good Florida team. It’s a great opportunity for us to get a chance to kind of turn this season around, play our best game, and it’s something we’ve worked hard over the last 10 days to get ready for.”
On if he’s decided on a starting quarterback for Saturday:
“No. We’ll make a decision as we get closer to the game.”
On where the improved freshmen he mentioned earlier on Wednesday have improved and if they’re closer to playing more snaps:
“All these guys have played on special teams. They’ve all had a chance to play. It’s really just about opportunity. When you talk about if you’re not out there on the field, it’s hard to improve, whether it’s in a game or in practice or whatever, so just learning what it’s like in a routine and a college regimen of classes, weight room, practice, meetings, preparation. Just kind of getting in a routine and getting a chance to be consistent over a long period of time has helped all of them.”
On the development of Roman Harrison, Tyler Baron and Morven Joseph:
“Roman played really well early. Last year he was a really, really good special teams player for us. Played some minutes there, especially on third down. He got a little bit banged up early in the season and his role probably decreased a little bit, but he’s getting healthier and it’s good to get him back.
“Tyler has continued, it seems like he plays more and more snaps every game. Not unusual for a young guy. He just continues to earn the opportunity.
“Morven’s a guy that really can play a lot of different positions because of his versatility. We’ve moved him around a little bit, but really in the last several weeks, you start seeing the game kind of slowing down for him, which is good to see because he’s a guy that plays really, really fast.”
On what linebacker position Morven Joseph is playing:
“He’s a guy that on first and second down, we would like to develop as an inside ‘backer. On third down, he moves to the outside and becomes a rusher. When the season started, we started him on the outside, and obviously we had a little bit of injuries there in the middle of the season, so to create some depth we moved him in there. He’s benefited by us not playing, to be honest, kind of getting these camp-type practices and going back to the basics and fundamentals. It’s really caught him up at inside ‘backer and there’s probably a little more multiples there, but when you learn that part of it from inside out, it probably clears things up for you, as far as the big picture of our defense, so it’s been good for him, it’s good for his development.”
On the status of freshman linebacker Martavius French:
“He’s really worked hard this season to change his body. I think when he got here, he was 251 pounds. Last week he was 226. You can see really the slimming up, playing faster, being quicker. We’ll build him back up, but a guy that’s really smart and I’m excited about his future here.”
On how hard it’s been to practice the last two weeks with so many players in quarantine:
“This is the first time we’ve had this number of guys out, in the last couple of weeks, since all the way back to fall camp. But we’re just really probably taking the pads off — not completely, but probably not as many days in pads or shells — just because of numbers, because if we lose a guy or two, it’d really be tough to practice. Our guys have done a really nice job. It’s been very productive for the last couple of weeks.”
How far behind this freshman class is because of Covid-19 compared to a normal season:
“I feel like, just from a time frame, we reported back in June, but we didn’t do any football in June. Everything was kind of different, because the kids had been off for I guess three months, since March the 12th. The first two or three weeks was really mandated by the SEC to make sure the guys were healthy, to kind of get them ready to start football. We started that in July, and, of course, probably across the country, especially after the Fourth of July, the COVID numbers kind or crept up. So guys have been in and out. Not everybody’s had the same circumstance.
“That’s why some guys are probably having an opportunity to contribute more this year than maybe others. I’m not sure that has anything to do with ability. It may be just more the circumstances. Over the last, really, six to eight weeks, with the extra practices, we’ve really kind of worked hard to develop those guys, and they’ve had great attitudes. Each game, more and more of them are playing and creating bigger roles for themselves.”
On freshman offensive lineman Cooper Mays:
“Cooper’s really had an unusual probably last 18 months. He obviously had an injury in high school and played hurt his senior year. With the surgery and coming back, didn’t get a chance to have a lot of offseason, but guy’s a tough kid, he’s smart. He’s played a lot for us at the tight end position. He’ll play Saturday. He’s got a bright future and just needs more opportunities.”
On players in quarantine preparing for Florida:
“A lot of them have experience with it, because this isn’t the first time. Dating all the way back til July, when they’re in contact tracing, they still can be in the Zoom meetings. If they don’t have Covid, they can do a workout, but it’s got to be by themselves, so it takes some logistics there with our strength staff. They can’t be at practice. They can do workouts on their own with our strength staff, but it’s not practice.”
On the results of Tuesday’s round of Covid-19 tests:
“We did, we did. We had a couple of positives. I think one of them was an off-the-field personnel and one player, but with these things you have to go back and follow up to make sure it’s not a false positive, so it’s usually a couple of days before you figure that out.”
On why Tennessee hasn’t used the jumbo package as much lately:
“We were playing Riley (Locklear). We were playing Jerome (Carvin) and playing Cooper (Mays) early in the year. All those guys kind of, in the Missouri game, got banged up, and Jahmir (Johnson) obviously got hurt against South Carolina. We got down some numbers there. We’ve used it off and on throughout the season and used other guys in there. But we’ve not used it as much because those guys probably had a little more experience playing that position. We put a lot of time and effort into it in the offseason. (It is) something that we’ll continue to use. I think it’s a good package. I know losing Riley Locklear was a big deal, because he played really well in there in the first two games. He’ll be back and he’ll get an opportunity to finish his senior year. Me and him’s talked about this before. He’s excited about it because he never really got a chance to be redshirted. I see him every day. He’s got a smile on his face. He’s working hard to get back.”
On the emphasis on third-down efficiency on offense and defense:
“You go back and do a lot of quality control and see the things that you’ve done well, see the things that you’ve not done so well to try to figure it out. Is it personnel, is it scheme, is it execution. Probably it’s been a little bit of both or some of all of that for us this year. We’ve got to do a better job on third down, especially on defense. I thought the last game, our offense was much improved. But defensively, particularly in the last two games, just had lots of opportunities to get off the field and didn’t, which enabled our opponent to extend drives and in turn get points.”