KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee football team continued to displayed excitement at the challenge posed by this weekend’s road test against No. 21/21 Auburn as it wrapped up its third practice of the week on Wednesday night at Haslam Field.
“Having an off week was really good for us because there’s lots of things that need to catch up on and improve on, but the excitement about playing football is playing the games,” head coach Jeremy Pruitt said.
The Vols will face their second straight ranked opponent as they travel to Jordan-Hare Stadium to take on the Tigers on Saturday at Noon ET. The game will air live on the SEC Network.
“We’re playing against a really good football team that’s really well coached,” Pruitt said. “I know they’re coming off of a loss, and I know the men on that coaching staff and a lot of those players, and they have a lot of pride.”
Saturday’s contest is the first noon road game for the Vols since a 12 p.m. ET kick at Georgia on Sept. 27, 2014. With the game being played in the central time zone, it also marks the first 11 a.m. start for UT since Nov. 14, 2009 at Ole Miss.
“We’ll have a tough challenge to go down there and win the game, but our kids are excited for the opportunity to play and we’re looking forward to it,” Pruitt said.
Vols Show Improvement
Tennessee continues to show improvement in all phases of the game but is still looking for consistency when it comes to limiting turnovers.
“Their practice habits are better, and that’s the first way to improve as a player is to become a better practice player,” Pruitt said. “They’re starting to prepare better each week, so I’ve seen a lot of improvement, and I think our team has improved every week in all phases. The one thing that we have not improved on is protecting the football.”
The Vols began 2018 with only two turnovers through the first three games of the season but have since committed seven.
“We’ve got to improve on that, and we’ve worked really hard on it,” Pruitt said. “I think we’re improving our tackling on defense, and we’re improving our pass rush. So, we’ve just got to keep doing that, and that’s what everybody has been focusing on for the last two weeks.”
Head Coach Jeremy Pruitt Post-Practice Press Conference Transcript (Oct. 10)
“It’s good to be back in game week. I think there’s a lot of guys that are excited to play. Having an off week was really good for us because there’s lots of things that need to catch up on and improve on, but the excitement about playing football is playing the games. We’re playing against a really good football team that’s really well coached. I know they’re coming off of a loss, and I know the men on that coaching staff and a lot of those players, and they have a lot of pride, so we’ll have a tough challenge to go down there and win the game. But our kids are excited for the opportunity to play and we’re looking forward to it.”
On Kevin Steele helping him get started in collegiate coaching:
“Kevin was one of the first guys that was hired on the staff at Alabama when coach (Nick) Saban got the job and he recruited Hoover High School. I had never met Kevin before, I met him then. He called me one night and asked me if I would be interested in talking to coach Saban and I did. From there, I went to work and at that time Kevin was the defensive coordinator. That first year, we spent a lot of nights together with me trying to help him in any way that I possibly could. I was a young guy and excited about the opportunities, excited about the people I was working with, and I learned a lot. Kevin was very patient with me as a young coach and very instrumental in helping me get going in my career, so I’m very thankful for that opportunity and he’s a good friend of mine.”
On if he knew then that he wanted to be a college head coach and if Kevin Steele helped start him on that path:
“Coach Saban was the head coach and eventually hired me, but Kevin probably recommended me to him. So absolutely, it helped. Growing up, I really wanted to be a high school coach, that’s what I wanted to do, but as I stayed on as a student assistant at Alabama once I finished playing, I had a really good opportunity, played for some really good coaches and stayed there on a great staff. We didn’t have a lot of success that first year, but I learned a lot of ball. It’s probably one of those what-ifs, what if you get an opportunity? I’m thankful for the opportunity I have now.”
On the chemistry of the offensive staff:
“Everybody on our offensive staff is familiar with each other. I’ve known Tyson Helton since 2004 when I was working at Hoover High School. Will Friend and I lived together in college. Brian Niedermeyer worked for me at Georgia, Alabama and here. Chris Weinke I was with at Alabama and I’ve known him for a long time through a mutual friend. David (Johnson) is the one guy that I didn’t really know, but Burton Burns highly recommended him and he came in here and interviewed and did a fantastic job. We have great offensive minds. To be good on offense, you have to be able to execute, that’s the one thing. Defensive football, there’s lot of times over the years where we didn’t exactly get it right, but we had some really good playmakers, some guys that most of them got it right. On offense, it’s hard to have success unless everybody is doing it right, so we have to work to do that. When we’ve done that this year, we’ve had success, so we have to get more consistency to have more success.”
On the safety situation, Micah Abernathy’s availability, and how Theo Jackson and Shawn Shamburger have responded to more reps:
“First of all, Theo and Shamburger, or any player, having an opportunity because somebody is hurt shouldn’t change the way you practice. If you want to be the best that you can possibly be, you need to practice at your best and prepare at your best, so if the opportunity arises, you’re ready instead of waiting around. But, Micah has practiced, he’s got a banged-up ankle and he’ll be ready to play.”
On coaching the offense and what he is looking for from the offense:
“I have confidence in Terry Fair, I have confidence in Charles Kelly. I don’t think that I have to be down there. I knew when we got started, even though Charles and I speak the same language, I wanted to make sure it started off right. That’s the way it was when we first started. I ran all the defensive meetings. I don’t run all of the defensive meetings anymore, so even though a lot of us work together, we haven’t worked together in a couple of years, so you want to make sure that you’re all speaking the same language, defensively, so a lot of it has to do with that. I’ve spent so much time on the defensive side. I coached offense in high school and I think I could go coach the o-line, the quarterbacks, the wide receivers, so, I want to go down there and encourage those guys a little bit.”
On offensive line continuity and the reps that Nathan Niehaus has been getting:
“For one, we’re getting Jerome (Carvin) more reps at center. He’s now our backup center, and he’s taken a lot of reps at right guard, and for Jerome, he has talent, he’s a smart guy, he’s a guy who since he’s been here he’s now played all five positions unfortunately, probably because of a lack of depth in the spring. He’s a guy that, since Brandon (Kennedy) has been out, he had been the third-team center. So, if we had a rack of six, he would take two reps at center each practice, for each period, and with Riley (Locklear) out, we wanted to make sure that he was ready to go at center. We had a couple of guys that were out for one day. Nathan, he’s a guy that, he’s smart, he has a big body, he can bend, he probably needs to develop a little more power, and he will the older he gets. If he gets an opportunity, and he’s played pretty well in the opportunities he’s had, he’s a guy that we believe in and that we think has a chance to contribute for us.”
On players who have developed well that haven’t been mentioned much:
“I see a lot of guys in our program that are really improving. Their practice habits are better and that’s the first way to improve as a player is to become a better practice player. They’re starting to prepare better each week, so I’ve seen a lot of improvement and I think our team has improved every week in all phases. The one thing that we have not improved on is protecting the football. We started off the year protecting the football and then we had one game where we had six turnovers and had a couple others along the way. We’ve got to improve on that and we’ve worked really hard on it. I think we’re improving our tackling on defense and we’re improving our pass rush, so we’ve just got to keep doing that, and that’s what everybody has been focusing on for the last two weeks.”