9 notes and nuggets from Tennessee's preseason presser
A little more than 24 hours before Tennessee kicks off its preseason practices, head coach Jeremy Pruitt and coordinators Tyson Helton, Kevin Sherrer and Chris Rumph met with the media Thursday.
The Vols reported for camp and will practice Friday afternoon.
As is the case with every opening training camp presser, hope springs eternal.
Even Pruitt said as much, “The beauty of this game is everybody is starting 0-0.”
Here are nine notes and nuggets from Thursday’s preseason press conferences…
1. TREY SMITH BACK(ISH)
Tennessee’s All-American offensive lineman will return to the practice field tomorrow with his teammates. As Pruitt noted, Smith has “done everything” this summer (lifting, running, drills), but will be withheld from contact until August 19 or 20.
Interestingly, both Pruitt and Helton said Smith’s ultimate position on the OL will be determined based on need — i.e. where the sophomore best slots in after the other spots are determined.
2. TALKING QUARTERBACKS
We’ll have more on Tennessee’s quarterback battle, but one very interesting quote from Friday was Pruitt leaving the door open to possibly playing more than one quarterback to start the season. The first-year head coach stressed that the Vols must “figure out who gives us the best opportunity to win,” while adding, “I think the quarterbacks are no different than any other position. You’re going to have the same amount of competition. We’ll be repping four guys there. They’ll all get the same opportunity."
Pruitt continued: “It’s kind of like outside linebacker. If you’ve got two guys that are about the same, then you play them both. If you’ve got one guy that’s a little better, then you play him. I think the same thing at quarterback.
"If we have somebody that asserts himself, it might be three days into fall camp. It might be six weeks into the season. But we’ve got to figure out who gives us the best opportunity. And they’ll control that. Not us.”
3. HEALTHY VOLS
Tennessee will have close to 30 new players on the practice field tomorrow, many of whom were sidelined with injuries during the spring. Daniel Bituli and Todd Kelly Jr. are good to go, while linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. did not have his status updated. Junior wideout Jauan Jennings and offensive lineman Chance Hall will both be limited to start camp.
Hall, who missed all of the 2017 season and spring practice with a lingering knee injury, had offseason surgery and has been cleared to practice. The 6-foot-5, 330-pound junior is “itching to get going,” per Pruitt, but Tennessee isn’t going to rush Hall back on the field.
“You’re talking about a guy that didn’t play any football last year and didn’t participate in the spring,” Pruitt said. “He started this summer working, and he’s progressed his way into being able to practice. I think just being smart, it wouldn’t be smart of us to throw him out there and he takes every rep every day. We’ll work our way in with him. We have a plan with our training staff and the reps that he’ll take.”
Similarly, Jennings, who had a small procedure on his knee this offseason, has been cleared but will be slowly worked into full contact drills.
4. JJ PETERSON UPDATE
Pruitt said Tennessee has a 109 players ready for practice Friday, but the first-year head coach is eager to have one more notable body available very soon.
While heralded freshman linebacker signee JJ Peterson has still not completed his academic work to enroll at Tennessee, Pruitt remained confident that the Colquitt County product will be with the Vols this fall.
“He’ll be here as soon as he can get his (academics) done,” Pruitt said.
5. MORE S&C PRAISE
Pruitt has complemented Tennessee’s new strength and conditioning coordinator Craig Fitzgerald throughout the offseason, and on Thursday, co-defensive coordinator Chris Rumph joined in the chorus.
While a major emphasis for much of the roster has been on adding weight, Rumph’s outside linebacker unit consists of lots of former traditional defensive ends asked to slim down while retaining strength. Darrell Taylor, Jonathan Kongbo and Deandre Johnson all shed pounds this offseason. Conversely, Jordan Allen has gained more than 30 pounds since transferring to Tennessee as a slim JUCO outside linebacker.
“Guys are changing their bodies," RUmph said. "It's been incredible. I was joking with them that at one time when they came over to my house I didn’t care if they took their shirts off around my wife. Now I’m telling them that they can’t take their shirt off in front of my wife.”
6. RUMPH PREACHIN'
In light of the ugly situation happening at Ohio State, it was refreshing to hear a coach (extemporaneously) on the power of their position and the importance of them not only developing football players but men. Oftentimes, those quotes can come off as cliche, but Rumph, at the end of nearly a 15-minute availability, passionately explained how he gains’ players trust and why it’s important to do so.
7. PLAY-CALLING DUTIES?
While Tyson Helton will be charged with calling plays for Tennessee offensively, the first-year OC did note that OL coach Will Friend will have a hand in real-time decisions on gameday. Helton also confirmed that his playcalling experience consists of situational calls at both Western Kentucky and USC — calling some 3rd downs, red zone snaps or “shot plays.”
There was a bit more confusion as to who would call the plays defensively, though. Rumph said it hadn’t been decided yet, while Sherrer answered in the affirmative if he would be on the field and calling the plays. Meanwhile, Pruitt also told WMNL’s Jimmy Hyams that he would continue to signal the calls (like he did at FSU, UGA and Alabama) from the sidelines. Obviously, this topic deserves further clarification.
8. RB BY COMMITTEE
The Vols have a slew of tailbacks on the roster but only grad transfer Madre London has much experience. With Ty Chandler, Tim Jordan, Jeremy Banks and Princeton Fant, Helton has plenty of intriguing pieces to play will, and he confirmed that the Vols will operate “by committee” this fall.
“In this league, if you run one guy by the end of the season, he’s going to be a dead man, honestly. We got some good stable of running backs. They’re very solid. All those guys will need to roll in and play,” Helton said.
“It’s really not about who the starting guy is. We’re going running back by committee.”
9. DOING IT THE RIGHT WAY
In his opening statement, Pruitt stressed that fall camp will be all about competition and discipline. The Vols have very few established starters and after a spring practice missing nearly one third of the roster, the new staff hopes to get after it this fall, while instilling its practice habits.
"Everybody wants to do it the right way. Lots of folks can do it the right way some of the time," Pruitt said.
"But if you look at the most successful teams. They have discipline and figure out a way to do it all the time. Even in the most adverse situations."