Six housekeeping notes on the eve of Tennessee's 2019 training camp
Despite a 5-7 season in Year 1, hope springs eternal for Tennessee as it beings its 2019 preseason practices tomorrow.
The Vols held their annual Media Day on Thursday, with head coach Jeremy Pruitt and coordinators Jim Chaney, Derrick Ansley, Tee Martin and Kevin Sherrer all speaking optimistically about the team’s chances this fall.
There will be plenty of interesting stories to parse from a slew of interviews, but here is a six-pack of housekeeping notes to know before Tennessee starts fall camp in less than 24 hours.
A (NON) UPDATE ON TREY SMITH
While fans and folks inside the program remain hopeful that former freshman All-American offensive lineman Trey Smith can return to action after battling blood clots in his lungs a year ago, the Vols still have no firm answer on Smith’s status on the eve of camp.
Pruitt offered essentially a non-update Thursday, simply reiterating that Smith “wants to play football” but doctors have yet to come up with a plan to fulfill that goal.
Smith, a 6-foot-6, 320-pound junior, spent the spring as a non-contact participate in practice and worked out with the team all summer. He projects as Tennessee’s likely starting left guard should he get the green light from the medical staff.
But it’s a scary situation, and clearly, the Vols, Smith and his doctors are taking their time finding the best solution.
“Our doctors have kind of collaborated with everybody across the country, a lot of specialists,” Pruitt explained, “To figure out a plan that’ll enable him to get an opportunity to be able to do that.”
ONE TRANSFER TO REDSHIRT, ANOTHER STILL IN LIMBO
Deangelo Gibbs will have to wait at least a season to don the Tennessee uniform in a game. The Georgia transfer will redshirt this season, per Pruitt, who indicated the NCAA has yet to actually rule on Gibbs’ petition for immediate eligibility but because he transferred within the SEC he is unlikely to get the waiver.
“We probably have a really good idea about Deangelo,” Pruitt said when asked about Gibbs’ status.
“He’s going to redshirt and sit out this year. I think moving within the SEC, that’s really what’s going to happen there. You just don’t transfer from one SEC school to the other without being a graduate transfer, and Deangelo knew that when he came here, and he came here because he believed in the coaching staff and for his future development in the game of football.”
Interestingly, Gibbs’ final position at Tennessee has yet to be determined. The 6-1, 205-pound athlete played defensive back for the Bulldogs but spent the spring at both wideout and STAR for Tennessee. The thought was that Gibbs would remain with Derrick Ansley on defense, but Tee Martin has to continued to pine for Gibbs’ services as a receiver and Pruitt noted his role on the team will be decided over the next year during his redshirt season.
“He’s done a really nice job this offseason,” Pruitt said.
“The big key for him is what side of the ball is he going to play on? The guy can play either side of the ball, but it’s important for us, for the next nine months, to make sure that he’s at the right position, so he can continue to grow and develop as a football player, so when he does get an opportunity to get eligible that he’s ready to contribute.”
Meanwhile, former Michigan 5-star defensive lineman Aubrey Solomon has yet to hear from the NCAA and remains in limbo for the 2019 season.
“We’ve not heard anything yet,” Pruitt said. “Hey, it could be tomorrow, it could be two weeks from now. Whenever it happens, it’ll happen.”
QUOTE OF THE DAY
Quote of the presser so far?— Jesse Simonton (@JesseReSimonton) August 1, 2019
Jeremy Pruitt: “I’m excited about our 2019 offensive line.”
SENIOR DB SIDELINED
Baylen Buchanan is one of Tennessee’s most experienced defensive players, but the senior’s status for the fall is very much in question right now.
The Peach State cornerback was a non-contact participate all spring, dealing with a neck injury, per sources, and evidently, Buchanan is still battling the injury as camp opens.
The 5-foot-11, 195-pound senior will be held out of “the first couple weeks” of preseason camp, according to Pruitt. Then he’ll be reevaluated.
“We’ll see where he’s at in a couple of weeks,” Pruitt said.
Tennessee has a lot of bodies in the secondary, but the Vols have little experience at corner. Buchanan’s absence only accentuates the issue. Behind starters Bryce Thompson and Alontae Taylor are three freshman and Terrell Bailey, who’s rarely played in three seasons.
Buchanan started all 12 games last season and spent the majority of his snaps at STAR/nickel. Pruitt noted that pretty much everyone in the secondary could play that STAR or “money” spot, listing seven guys in fact — Nigel Warrior, Shawn Shamburger, Theo Jackson, Cheyenne Labruzza, Tyus Fields, Bryce Thompson and Jaylen McCollough. Warren Burrell and Kenneth George are other options, too, and many of the players named have higher upsides than Buchanan. They don’t offer the experience, though, and over the next month, Tennessee must determine if its better for a guy like Thompson or Warrior to slide inside at such a key spot or rotate multiple bodies depending on situations and personnel packages.
A JJ PETERSON UPDATE!
Few players on Tennessee’s roster garner more questions from fans than redshirt freshman linebacker JJ Peterson. The Peach State native was the crown jewel of Pruitt’s first recruiting class, but after not arriving on campus until the West Virginia game last fall, 2018 became a lost season for Peterson, who recorded just a single tackle in four games.
The 6-foot-2, 235-pound inside linebacker battled shoulder and ankle injuries during the spring and wasn’t even present for the Orange & White Game.
Still, Tennessee has high hopes for the former blue-chip recruit and his position coach expects him to be in position for more playing time this fall, so long as Peterson competes and puts in the work. He'll be a present participate on Day 1, too.
“We expect him to have a better shot because last year he did come in later than the rest. He will do what he needs to do and time will tell on him,” inside linebackers coach Kevin Sherrer said.
“All of our guys are going to be pushed and will be competing for playing time.”
HOLD THE DOOR?
Redshirt freshman defensive lineman Kurott Garland entered the NCAA transfer portal earlier this week, but Pruitt didn’t dismiss the idea that the Georgia native could return to the team.
““I’ve been a proponent of it. It gives folks an opportunity to find their way. When they go into the portal, it doesn’t mean they’re going to transfer,” Pruitt said.
“We’ll let that situation play out and we’ll see where it goes.”
Garland played in four games a year ago and was purposefully held out of Tennessee’s finale against Vanderbilt to preserve his redshirt season. He missed the entire spring battling an undisclosed injury.