Tennessee head football coach Jeremy Pruitt made no bones about how he’s feeling about the status of his team following the fourth day of spring practice, at least on the defensive side of things.
“Interesting day out there today,” Pruitt said after the practice. “I’m coming off the field, and I’m ticked off. I don’t know if it’s because I’m mad about the way the whole team practiced or the offense kicked their tails.”
Tennessee is coming off of its first two-day break, not having practiced on Sunday or Monday of this week before getting back on the practice field on Tuesday.
Pruitt was displeased with his team’s response to the rest and was especially irked by the amount of mental errors he saw the players commit.
“We had two days off,” Pruitt said, “(And our guys) didn’t respond the right way. We’ve got to fix that.”
Gearing up toward scrimmages:
For Tennessee, it isn’t necessarily about all of the individual practices it is going through; these are just moments to learn. The objectives are translating these fundamentals the players learn in practice into scrimmage scenarios and performing at a high standard.
“(Scrimmages) are kind of like a test,” Pruitt said. “You study for a certain period of time and you get the information, and then they test you on it.”
Pruitt mentioned that Tennessee will have a couple of instances this spring in which it holds scrimmages to evaluate where the Vols are as a team. The practices are the building blocks to this goal.
To Pruitt, scrimmages will place the emphasis more on the individuals and will serve as ways to measure how players can perform in a crunch-time situation.
The ultimate scrimmage comes on April 21, when the Vols will participate in the Orange and White game held annually at Neyland Stadium. Pruitt has already mentioned that this year, the Orange and White Game will follow the format of an actual game in order to simulate what the coaches expect out of all of the players on gameday.
Pruitt even mentioned the possibility of the team staying in a hotel. The Orange and White game will serve as a measuring stick for how the team will react during an actual game-time scenario, right down to the crowd.
“You have an element where you create a game-like atmosphere,” Pruitt said. “That adds a little more excitement, a little more anxiety, a little more pressure.”
Vols still evaluating every position:
This is the first chance the new Tennessee coaching staff is getting to look at what it really has on this roster. On day one of practice, the coaches were evaluating players and positions, and three practices later, nothing has changed.
There are plenty of players who have already had a change of scenery under Pruitt’s regime. Former wide receiver Tyler Byrd made the move to defensive back, his position out of high school, and running back Carlin Fils-Aime has been seeing reps at defensive back as well, to name a couple.
Though these athletes have changed positions to start the spring, they are still getting work at their original positions.
“We’re still installing things,” Pruitt said. “We’ll see after seven days if we want to make the decision to keep those guys there at the scrimmage or return to their original position.
“We’re working both right now.”
For the rest of the team, Pruitt insists there are no starters, and in fact there are no “groups,” as in first team, second team and third team.
“We don’t even know who the best football players are yet,” Pruitt said.
The stress the past few days has been on evaluation. It seems that practically every athlete on Tennessee’s roster has an equal chance at nabbing a starting spot.
All eyes are on the quarterback position, with the battle seemingly between Jarret Guarantano and Will McBride. Both have appeared strong in open portions of practice, but any decision made now could be undermined when graduate transfer Keller Chryst from Stanford joins the team this summer.
The only certainty Pruitt has is that he wants to see his players improve, instead of having off days like he claimed he saw on Tuesday.
Pruitt made it very clear how he feels the team stands with him right now.
“We’re not good enough to go backwards,” Pruitt said.