Even with a year of head coaching experience under his belt, coming to Tennessee was never going to be a typical experience for Jeremy Pruitt.
With his second fall camp at the helm of Tennessee’s football program steadily approaching its close, Pruitt and the Vols continue to thrive on competitive fire in practice, specifically competition for starting spots.
Whether at the high school, collegiate or professional level, no competitor enjoys getting replaced and for a team with a plethora of youth and inexperience on its roster, getting a taste of that ahead of time can be beneficial. In the case of UT, Pruitt hasn’t been able to name starters in certain position groups yet.
“There are lots of areas of our football team that not only do we not have starters, we don't know who the twos are or who the threes are, so there's lots of competition and it will change daily,” Pruitt said. “When you go to the stadium and scrimmage, it's an opportunity to see how you perform without the coaches out there with you.”
After going through a closed scrimmage over the weekend, Tennessee now has its sights set on opening weekend against Georgia State on Aug. 31. The problem is, even Pruitt and his staff have no idea what the starting lineup will look like when that date arrives. Much like last preseason, UT fans are left with a load of uncertainty as opening kickoff approaches.
The only difference is that this year, Pruitt and his staff have much more to lose compared to when they took over a reeling program recovering from the Butch Jones debacle to end 2017.
Boasting one of the most explosive young secondaries in the SEC, the Vols are set to make some noise on the defensive side of the ball. With returning DB’s Bryce Thompson and Alontae Taylor anchoring that unit, Tennessee will likely make more noise on that side of the ball, an area it struggled with last season.
Despite that reality, Pruitt is in no hurry to name either a starter as the regular season peaks around the corner. In fact, with an ample amount of time left before Georgia State makes its way to Neyland Stadium, the Vols are leaving everything on the table.
"A lot of people make a lot about Bryce and Alontae,” Pruitt said. "Bryce and Alontae played because they were the best players here. Both of them have a long way to go to improve as football players.”
Thompson and Taylor were both top-notch given their age a year ago. With a year of experience now under their belts, they appear to be well on their way to superb sophomore campaigns, but the lingering thought of potential replacement could drive them to even bigger heights.
Pruitt seems to think so.
“I believe both have the skill set to play the position. They're different, but they work hard. They like ball so they have a chance to be good football players down the road,” Pruitt said. “Are they right now? They still have a ways to go. It's good that Warren (Burrell) is here, because he creates competition.”