KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Football is back in Tennessee as the Volunteers opened spring practice with the first of 15 workouts on a rainy Tuesday afternoon at Haslam Field. Head coach Jeremy Pruitt put the squad through a two-plus hour workout in helmets and shorts, focusing on all three phases in the wet conditions.
Pruitt stressed the importance of his team having depth and familiarity with the third year in his system.
“You can tell that it’s the third year in the system. You can tell that we’ve got a lot of guys returning. There weren’t a whole lot of mistakes, so that’s good to see and we can really coach fundamentals.
“We have more numbers at every position. This will be the first time in three seasons that we will be at 85 scholarships.”
The Vols will practice again Thursday before taking off for spring break. Spring practice culminates with the Chevrolet Orange & White Spring Game on Saturday, April 18 at 4 p.m. ET in Neyland Stadium. Admission and parking is free.
Below is a transcript from Pruitt’s Tuesday night media session:
“It was exciting to get back out there on the grass. I felt like we had a lot of enthusiasm, and we should. We’ve got a lot of returning guys with lots of experience. Everybody seems to know where they’re supposed to be. Obviously, we’ve had some turnover with coaches, and it was exciting for me to see these guys out here on the grass. I thought they did a fantastic job. We’ve talked about on both sides of the ball, the No. 1 priority this spring has got to be the ball, on both sides. Starting offensively, securing the football, from quarterback-center exchanges to hand-offs to making decisions, securing the football, whether it’s at wide receiver, quarterback, running back, tight end, or in the kicking game. Defensively, if you get a turnover, secure the football. We’ve got to get more turnovers on defense. That has to be a priority this spring, especially when you talk about fumbles. We did not get nearly enough last year, so that’s got to be a focus for us. I felt like the kids had a great attitude out there today. You can tell that it’s the third year in the system. You can tell that we’ve got a lot of guys returning. There weren’t a whole lot of mistakes, so that’s good to see and we can really coach fundamentals. We’re trying to slow it down this spring as far as installs. We’re making sure that we teach concepts and have a really good understanding of what we’re doing, and I thought our guys did a nice job with that. We have to do a really good job this spring in the kicking game. Losing our snapper last year was a big deal. You don’t worry about that until you don’t have one, so we’ve got lots of competition in that area. It was a great day to be out there. It was wet. We had a lot of rain during practice, so we had a chance to handle the ball in some adverse situations, so that’s good for us and it should help us down the road. When you look at our guys, you can see in this off-season, the growth, I think our strength staff has done a fantastic job getting these guys ready for spring ball. You can see it without guys with just how their bodies have changed over the course of the last year. We’ve got to continue to work hard in the weight room during spring. We’ve got 15 practice. One is down, but you really kind of have a window of about 30 to 35 days here, where we really have to improve and do a good job in our teaching progressions. We’ve got to do a great job correcting in the film room, and in the teaching progressions, setting the table for 11-on-11, and it’s something that, offensively, you need 11-on-11. Defensively, you can do a whole lot of drills and get to that point and build a little more slowly, but to me, offensively, you’ve got to be able to function as a unit, and that’s something that we’ve got to get lots of reps in. With the quarterback position, being able to go two-spot and having enough bodies to practice efficiently with four groups is going to help us there as far as getting reps. There’s good competition there, all of those guys got lots of reps today, so that’s good to see. One thing that I wanted to say before I even started here is that we had a tragedy last week in Nashville, in Middle Tennessee with the tornado and the victims involved. There’s nothing that I can say that can take it all back, but we had some kids on our team that knew people that were affected, and it affected people in our state. Unfortunately, there was some loss of life there, and it makes you appreciate just how important your family is and being thankful for the opportunities that we have every day. That’s something that our kids have really been focused on with trying to be involved in some way with helping the victims, and that’s something that we’ll continue to do.”
On if there’s a different feeling with it being his third season here …
“I believe it was obvious that we do have some experience. When you compare the last two (seasons), we’re further along now, which we should be with the experience that we have coming back. I think our kids are excited to be back out there, and we’ve had a great offseason. Guys have worked really hard, Coach Fitz (Craig Fitzgerald) and his guys have done a fantastic job with helping them grow, get stronger, and change their bodies, and getting them ready to practice. So, I felt like we were in really good condition today for the first day, and I felt like as the practice went, the stronger we got.”
On the quarterback competition this spring …
“From the quarterback standpoint, the first thing to me is when you play the position and your team has the ball, how does the drive end. We might throw it 15 times or we might run it 15 times. What is the end result? Part of being a quarterback is getting the other 10 guys to be at their best. Lots of times we get hung up on their stats. A lot of that affects some of that. Does every possession end in a kick? That is what we need to do. If we do that we have a chance to have success.”