5 Takeaways from Tennessee's Pro Day
Tennessee held its Pro Day on Thursday.
Nominally, I guess.
La Croix currently has a better argument calling itself all natural seltzer water.
Jeremy Pruitt opted not to speak after the event, letting the school’s most listless Pro Day ever speak for itself.
A dozen Vols participated Thursday — two were grad transfers, two were walk-ons and the rest were Butch Jones signees. About half the teams in the NFL decided not to show up.
One observer quipped that spectator Todd Helton might have been the best football player there.
If Thursday's showing is not the ultimate representative/indictment of the situation Pruitt inherited and the current landscape of Tennessee's football program, then what is?
With that, here are four more thoughts on Tennessee’s Pro Day.
PHILLIPS UT’S BEST BET TO GET DRAFTED
The SEC is projected to represent about half of the first round of the NFL Draft, but Tennessee isn’t expected to have a single player drafted.
Kyle Phillips hopes to change that.
Despite not being invited to the NFL Combine, Phillips stands the best chance of getting drafted among all eligible Vols.
“After the season, teams weren’t seeing me as (a draftable prospect),” Phillips told me. “But I’ve been proving myself each opportunity I’ve had to show that I am one of the top guys.”
The former 5-star prospect performed well at the East-West Shrine Game in January and was invited to a Regional Combine in Kansas City last week. He showcased well again Thursday, running in the “4.6 range” 40-yard-dash at 277 pounds and looking agile and fluid in positional drills. He benched 225 just 17 times though, as his shoulder/medical testing could be what holds him back.
Still, Phillips believes his effort on tape and versatility should help him in the NFL, with teams talking to him about playing end, tackle and even some outside linebacker.
“It’s been exciting to get feedback,” Phillips said. “NFL teams think I can be a true three-down lineman.”
Phillips, who has been training down in Boca Raton, has meetings setup with the Titans, Bills and Chargers upcoming. He compared his game favorably to New Orleans Saints end Cam Jordan, saying, “My motor speaks for itself. I think a lot of teams see that.”
With the NFL Draft in Phillips’ hometown this year, the Nashville native said it “would mean everything to him” to hear his name called.
MICAH ABERNATHY HELPED HIMSELF THURSDAY
Micah Abernathy was hampered by a slew of injuries throughout his career, including a foot fracture that cut his senior season short, but the 6-foot, 195-pound Atlanta native looked healthy Thursday, clocking a reported sub-4.5 40-yard-dash. Abernathy also said he had a vertical jump of 38.5 inches.
Those raw explosive numbers should at least earn Abernathy an invite to an NFL camp. He has lots of experience (30 career starts) and can play multiple positions in the defensive secondary (safety, free safety and nickel). He also has been a stalwart on Tennessee’s special teams the last four years.
Abernathy didn’t have any meetings lined up after Pro Day, but he’s eager to talk to teams to get a look.
“I just want a shot,” he said.
PRUITT PICKS UP ENDORSEMENTS
Frequently, one of the most popular questions at Pro Day is folks asking former players what they think about a certain teammate, the team's chances next season or a new coach.
That was no different Thursday.
Many of UT’s seniors were asked about their experiences playing one year under Jeremy Pruitt. While they all admitted the 5-7 season was not what anyone hoped, they believe this program is truly in the right hands.
Jonathan Kongbo offered up a particularly eloquent endorsement saying, "Pruitt is the man for the job. I’m telling you that. If he is going to be here, then they are going to win.”
Kongbo continued: “Last year, maybe we didn’t have all the pieces but out of all the football coaches I have been around that man is about football. He’s going to win here.”
The former lineman also spoke glowingly about S&C Coordinator Craig Fitzgerald and the nutrition staff — something Brent Hubbs will delve deeper on in an upcoming piece. One notable anecdote: Kongbo talked about how guys are no longer “hungry on the weekends” because there’s a strict plan in place for every meal.
Keller Chryst echoed some of Kongbo’s comments about Pruitt, specifically citing the change in culture. The former Stanford grad transfer didn’t arrive at Tennessee until last May, but said in the time since, the difference in “buy-in” is “night and day.”
“This place is about to take off,” Chryst said.
“They’re on the upswing. I expect big things from them this year.”
THIS & THAT
*** The NFL teams in attendance Thursday included the Titans, Bills, Jets, Lions, Browns, Rams, Giants, Colts, Packers, Steelers, Chiefs, Pats, Seahawks, 49ers, Cardinals and Eagles.
*** Tennessee had some of its strength and conditioning staff lead individual position drills for the defensive lineman — the bulk of prospects working out Thursday. I have never seen that before.
*** Kongbo, who is just five months removed from ACL surgery after getting hurt in the win over Auburn, weighed in at 256 and only participated in the bench press (20 reps at 225). The former 5-star prospect is optimistic about his football future though, saying, “When the injury happened, everyone thought I was done. What you going to do now? But I’m not done. I’m still around. I’m a football player.”
*** Kongbo started running about two weeks ago and expects to be back to full strength in the next month. He had conversations with the Giants, Jets, Browns and a couple CFL teams.
*** Shy Tuttle weighted in at 290 Thursday but didn’t have any of his combine event numbers.
*** Chryst had an up and down throwing session during his 60-attempt workout. He was noticeably slimmer though and moved well in the combine events. After throwing, some scouts asked him to work some at tight end. He ran around a half dozen routes without gloves.
“I haven’t done that since 7th grade,” he said. “I haven’t put on gloves since 2005. But if it’s something that can help me, I’ll take it. A chance is all I need.”
*** Alexis Johnson didn’t speak with reporters after Pro Day, and the former defensive tackle did not participate in position drills after partaking in the various combine events.