Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt was not pleased with the overall effort of his team in Saturday’s spring game
Jeremy Pruitt’s first spring as the coach at Tennessee football has come and gone, finishing with UT’s spring game Saturday, a callout for Tennessee fans and a strong showing from Jarrett Guarantano.
After 15 practices, including three scrimmages, here’s five things we learned through Pruitt’s first spring in Knoxville:
Grad transfers to have big say
Pruitt was mum on positions and individuals throughout the spring – something that was especially true at quarterback and running back. His general quarterback comments went back to the importance of the entire offense being in sync, while his running back tone desired more consistency.
But perhaps the most important comment from Pruitt was the one he didn’t make: The graduate transfers that Tennessee will bring in this summer are going to have a big say in the Vols backfield.
Stanford quarterback Keller Chryst and Michigan State running back Madre London both are slated to arrive in Knoxville this summer with experience in a pro-style offense – and experience, period. They’ll each have a good shot to earn playing time and provide veteran voices.
Pruitt setting the tone
Pruitt rarely spoke about individuals through the spring, particularly in the first half. He spoke multiple times about the need for former players, fans and the administration all playing a part in getting Tennessee football back to where he believes in can be.
And, really, Pruitt just spoke about football because that’s who he is. The man is competitive to the point that he called out players for not playing hard enough in the spring game. He chided similar issues after Tuesday practices, when players returned after two days off without the intensity he wants to see every day.
That tone was consistent through the spring and it’s clear that Pruitt is locked in on changing the tide at Tennessee, while molding the program to fit his taste quickly.
Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt wasn’t thrilled by the attendance at the spring game
Bituli and Kirkland to the rescue?
Tennessee’s run defense was not good last season to put it lightly. And it wasn’t impressive in Saturday’s spring game either, as the first-team defense allowed 133 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries to three first-team running backs.
So it all but confirmed Pruitt’s comments that reflected defensive concerns, at times, during the spring. But can the front seven find improvement with the return of linebackers Daniel Bituli and Darrin Kirkland? Pruitt seemed to think so after the spring game.
“I think those guys can make a difference,” Pruitt said.
Both players were limited through the spring with injuries. In fact, Pruitt said the Vols were down as many as 12 players this spring with injuries. The Vols will benefit from the return of many of those players.
The big switch
A storyline – naturally – throughout the spring was the move from the 4-3 defense to the 3-4 and how Tennessee’s current personnel would fit.
Pruitt downplayed the move, particularly in discussing what the change is like for a 4-3 defensive end moving to a 3-4 standup, outside linebacker position. Players did the same.
Tennessee settled in throughout the spring with which players fit what roles in the new scheme. Shy Tuttle moved to nose tackle, while Kyle Phillips and Jonathan Kongbo stayed as defensive ends. Darrell Taylor highlighted the players moving to standup outside linebacker.
“We are looking for guys who can get to the quarterback,” Pruitt said in late March. “That’s what we are looking for in our edge rushers, whether it’s an outside backer or 4-3 (defensive end) – that’s all it is. We are looking for guys to rush the quarterback.”
Quart’e Sapp and Will Ignont started at the middle linebacker spots in Saturday’s spring game, but that’s again where Bituli and Kirkland could have a say.
Long way to go
From leadership to competitiveness, Pruitt’s first spring featured a myriad of topics that the new UT coach still has to figure out.
The bright spots were evident in Saturday’s spring game from Jarrett Guarantano’s play to marked improvement from first-string wide receivers to a surprising showing from the offensive line. Kyle Phillips and Eli Wolf were honored as the most improved players this spring, and Phillips drew perhaps the most praise of any player this spring from Pruitt.
But the end of spring leaves many questions about the back end of the defense – especially cornerback – and the defense as a whole. There’s a lot of work left for the Vols and it surely goes beyond this first season, which features a tough schedule.