Every year, college football season kicks off about a month before the opening games take place.
On Friday, the Tennessee football team took the field for the first fall practice of the year. Despite practicing without pads, head coach Jeremy Pruitt said it was good to see his team get back to work.
“I thought it was a good day,” Pruitt said. “Anybody can look good with head gear and shorts on. To me, right now, it’s learning kind of about what to do and how to do it. When we get closer to putting on the pads, I think that tells you a little more about who you really are.”
Several things have changed since Tennessee held its final spring practice.
One of those changes has been the addition of a third practice field at the Anderson Training Center. Instead of practicing on fields that were farther apart like they were during the spring, the Vols are now able to practice on fields that are side-by-side.
“It was good to get out there on grass today,” Pruitt said. “Probably one of the big things I was excited about was the extra practice field that we have. A lot easier to practice, the way we want to do our drills, I think that will help our football team over the course of the season.”
Practicing on a third field pales in comparison to practicing with a whole new group of players, which is exactly what Tennessee did on Friday. The Vols were joined by almost 30 fresh faces to start fall camp.
The newcomers included players who did not practice in the spring due to injury, along with those who were not on campus for spring camp.
“Just like the first day of any practice, there’s things that really excites you to see some guys flash for the first time,” Pruitt said. “But it’s the first time you’ve been out there, and we had a lot of guys that it was their first time together.”
As the transition process took place over the spring and summer months, Pruitt noted the leadership shown by some of the veteran players on the roster.
“You can see a lot of our young guys have worked this summer,” Pruitt said. “It looks like, from the few meetings you get to have during the summer, I think our older guys have done a good job of trying to prepare them.”
Pruitt acknowledged the individual growth that took place in many players on their own time over the summer.
However, due to the NCAA limitations of summer workouts and the culture change that comes with a first-year head coach, being able to get on the field allows the Vols to work on things that they were not able to do during those months.
“The one thing that you can’t do during the summer is you can’t match the intensity that you have when practice starts,” Pruitt said. “When the coaches are out there, the tempo, the players can’t do that on their own during the summer.”
Despite the natural negatives that come with players-only practices during the summer, Pruitt believes there are some positives that come with it as well.
“I think it gives a chance for people to step into leadership roles,” Pruitt said. “You know nobody is out there but the players, so when you get a group in there sometimes you get people that can get everybody to do things a certain way, and then you have people that just talk about it, and they don’t have an effect on anybody else.”
“I think it gives guys a chance that are true leaders to kind of start doing that…I think they have done a good job this summer.”
The first day of fall practice is a measuring stick for every college football program.
For Tennessee, it is about acknowledging the positives along with the negatives. Pruitt says his coaching staff is starting to see what his team is made of.
“We’re nowhere close to where we want to be,” Pruitt said. “We’re not even close to it. But at least we do have an idea. We do have an understanding of what we’re trying to get done. That’s probably half the battle.”
Tennessee will hold an open practice on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at Neyland Stadium in conjunction with Fan Day.