Wednesday evening Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt spoke with the media ahead of Saturday’s game with Georgia in Athens. Kirby Smart will lead his No. 3 ranked Bulldogs into battle after a convincing 24-6 win against the Auburn Tigers in week two.
Here’s everything Pruitt said ahead of Saturday’s top 25 matchup.
Tennessee prepared for whatever weather they face Saturday
Hurricane Delta is set to make landfall in Louisiana on Friday afternoon before moving through the southern United States and up the east coast.
Rain is expected in Athens, Georgia on Saturday afternoon as a result of the hurricane and could affect the game and style of play but the Vols are just preparing to play their best game no matter the weather.
“We just worry about the things that we can control and take advantage of.”Pruitt said.“Today was a great day to go out there and get better and I think our team did that. If it rains Saturday, it'll be wet on both sides. We'll just go play ball.”
On the development of Keshawn Lawrence
Keshawn Lawrencearrived on Rocky Top as the top recruit of Tennessee’s 2020 recruiting class and one of the top safety recruits in the nation.
However, due to COVID-19 on contact tracing the freshman safety has been moved around the secondary to learn other positions due to a lack of depth and he might have found a new home at corner.
The Vols cornerback position is stacked in 2020, but playing time could be available in 2021 with seniors Shawn Shamburger and Kenneth George graduating and Alontae Taylor and Bryce Thompson being eligible for the NFL Draft.
“Keshawn is a guy that was affected really by the fact that we had a lot of people out during fall camp.” Pruitt said.“ We started him off at safety and there was a run there probably for two weeks that we didn't have any corners. So, we moved him to corner, and he's done a really good job at it and we don't want to move him back again. So, he's doing a nice job. He continues to work hard at practice, brings a great attitude every single day. He's very coachable, got really good ball skills, plays with toughness, so we're excited about him and as long as he keeps working like that, he'll obviously get an opportunity to play a bigger role on our team as the season goes.”
On the growth of linebackers Jeremy Banks and Quavaris Crouch
The departure of senior linebacker Daniel Bituli left a whole in the Vols defense at inside linebacker that Banks and Crouch have been expected to fill.
The two have split playing time this season beside Henry To’o To’o. Banks has eight tackles on the season while Crouch has six.
Both players have been committed to filling the position and Pruitt believes that in time, with consistent growth that they can continue to get better.
“It’s interesting with both of these guys not having spring ball.” Pruitt said.“For a linebacker, you've got to be the signal-caller, so being in there, the communication part between the defensive line, the secondary, setting the front, setting the blitzes, making sure we're in the right call from the secondary standpoint. We put a lot on them. If you just go, 'go get the ball', they both do a really nice job at that. They're going to continue to progress and improve every week because, I mean they live over here. There's probably not a day that hadn't went by over the last three months that I don't see them sitting in a room together with Henry (To'o To'o) and the other linebackers, and them just in there coaching each other up. When you put as much time and effort into it as they have, they're going to continue to get better.”
On the progression of freshman Dee Beckwith
The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Beckwith impressed coaches with his ability to run the ball during camp and was vying for the third running back position in Tennessee’s backfield despite coming in as a tight end prospect.
However, Beckwith suffered an ankle injury that set him back and has kept him out of action for the first two weeks.
“He's participating on the scout team now.” Pruitt said.“That's the next step. I saw him make a really good run out there today. As we go, that's the next step with him. Sunday night, we are going to have a big scrimmage for the guys who aren't playing a huge role on our team right now. There's a lot of these guys that are plenty capable and based off circumstances, whether they were out for fall camp, they were injured or maybe they were just in quarantine and we had such small numbers that we didn't get a chance at that time to practice threes and fours, and maybe it didn't give them the opportunity. A lot of these guys are ready, and we need to get them out there and play some ball and we are going to do that on Sunday night when we get back.”
On the physical shape of Darel Middleton and Aubrey Solomon.
Defensive linemen Solomon and Middleton, were expected to be big contributors in the front seven during the 2020 season.
However, due to missing practices, their fitness has suffered. However, Pruitt believes they both are close to turning a corner as they continue to be involved in more football activities.
“They didn't practice for a very long time.” Pruitt said.“They're both back, they're working hard, and they have good attitudes. They're kind of getting back into football shape and the movements that go with it. Can't just sit there and not play this game and think it doesn't affect you. Getting these guys back we will hopefully see improvement every week.”
On Freshman Georgia tight end Darnell Washington on their preparation for him
The 6-foot-7 261 pound Washington is one of the most physically imposing players in college football and is a great target for Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett.
The true freshman almost signed with Tennessee last winter but instead will be lining up against the Vols Saturday. Washington will be a big test for a Tennessee secondary that has at times struggled in the passing game this season at times. The Vols will need to play their best game so far to keep him and the Bulldogs in check on Saturday afternoon.
“There's no way to imitate that in practice, we don't have anybody that big.” Pruitt said.“We're worried about us. In the last two weeks and the two weeks leading up to the first game we've got this thing crunched in here trying to work hard and get better. We have so many things that we need to improve on and that has really been our focus. We obviously know the talent there with Darnell and he's actually playing really well for a freshman. He's blocking well in the c-area, he's made some really nice catches. He's just a big man.”
On Georgia’s talent and special teams
The Bulldogs are one of the most talented teams in college football and have high-level skill all over the field. This has helped the Bulldogs create one of the best defenses in college football while playing smart, special teams football day in and day out.
The Vols will have to be at the top of their game in Athens on Saturday to compete with a team with as much talent as the Bulldogs.
“They have good specialists.” Pruitt said. “Really good in the return game. They blocked a punt against Arkansas, they've returned some kickoffs out there that were a player away from being a touchdown. They've got good speed on their team with size. If you've got size and speed, it gives you an opportunity to have good special teams and they do a nice job coaching them up. There's not a weakness in their special teams. They are really sound and impressive over the first two games.”