The weather couldn’t keep the Tennessee football team from kicking off day one of fall camp at the Anderson Athletic Training Center on Friday.
The Vols started the day outside before rain and lightning forced them into their indoor practice facility, but the weather wasn’t enough to put a damper on the excitement and energy the coaches and players had for the start of a new season.
“It’s always exciting to get out there and get started,” Pruitt told the media following practice. “We had a little bit of weather, but from an operations standpoint, our players did a good job of getting ready to go.”
As he did at his fall camp-opening press conference on Thursday, Pruitt continued to harp on the progression of his offense under first-year coordinator Jim Chaney. According to Pruitt, he was pleased with the unit’s focus in their first practice.
“Offensively, I continue to see guys that have worked hard,” Pruitt said. “Especially when you talk about playing in a new system. (They) seemed to have knowledge, an understanding of being able to execute. That’s a positive. They took care of the football today.”
One position group on the offensive side of the ball where Tennessee returns the most experience is at wide receiver and while the media was only given a small sample size of the practice, it was clear that redshirt senior wide receiver Jauan Jennings is not lingering after injuring his knee in an offseason workout in June.
Jennings appeared fast and efficient while running routes and catching passes thrown by the quarterbacks. Pruitt even remarked that the Vols’ star wideout is at full speed only weeks until the season opener versus Georgia State.
“Jauan, he’s ready to go,” Pruitt said. “We’ll probably monitor him a little bit, probably for a week to ease him into it. But he’s fine. He’s healthy, he’s full speed. He obviously missed some of the summer workouts, so we’ll ease him into it.”
How Tennessee’s offense performs on the field come Aug. 31 will depend on their young offensive line and the Vols are still hoping that lineman Trey Smith will be available at some point during the season.
Following a successful freshman campaign in 2017 where he started in all 12 games and earned All-SEC Freshman honors, Smith was sidelined halfway through last season with a blood clot issue. On Friday, Smith participated in practice, but will continue to sit out contact drills and plays according to Pruitt.
“Right now (Smith) is going to stay in the same (non-contact) protocol,” Pruitt said. “He’s doing everything but full contact until our doctors come up with a plan for the rest of the fall.”
While Pruitt seemed to like what he saw out of the offense, he’s going to wait and see more out of his defense as camp moves along, particularly when the group goes full contact in the coming days.
“On the defensive side, we’ve got a long way to go,” Pruitt said. “I’m throwing a lot at them right now, but we’ll continue to do that. You’re out there with no pads on, so I’m sure there’s some guys out there that looked really good today that probably won’t be a football player.
“There’s probably some guys out there that looked really bad, but when you put the pads on they’ll show up. That’s usually how it happens. It’s hard to tell when you don’t have pads on.”
As a head coach with a defensive background, there are several areas Pruitt would like to see the defense improve on during camp, most notably displaying a smart brand of football and creating turnovers in the secondary.
“We want to be a smart football team, not making mistakes” Pruitt said. “We’ve got to get more guys that know what to do. We want to be a ball-hawking defense, we’ve got to create turnovers and we want to be good fundamentally.”