KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee football team resumed practice on Monday afternoon at Haslam Field for the Vols’ third practice of the spring session, and the first in full pads.
UT head coach Jeremy Pruitt made it clear that the offense took charge in practice yet again.
“For the first day of pads, offensively, I thought our guys executed fairly well,” Pruitt said. “We had couple situations in practice as far as third-down and I thought the guys did a really good job. We seemed to finish plays a lot better as far as holding onto the ball with quarterback and center exchanges.”
Pruitt also emphasized the improvements the offense made on day three. Specifically, he stressed how the team has cut down on mental errors while playing with more of an edge.
“We seemed to play to the whistle with more of an attitude,” Pruitt said. “So that was a positive there. It felt like we cut down some on our offensive penalties today, which I’m sure helps.”
Guarantano’s Experience Aiding Younger Players
Rising redshirt junior quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, who started all 12 games for Tennessee in 2018, enters his first spring season in offensive coordinator Jim Chaney’s offense.
The Lodi, N.J., native passed for 1,902 yards and 12 touchdowns a season ago en route to a Maxwell Award National Player of the Week honor and SEC Co-Offensive Player of the Week after an upset of No. 21 Auburn. Pruitt says his quarterback is helping guide the younger players in learning Chaney’s playbook.
“(Jarrett) has much more experience than the other guys,” Pruitt said. “I think the game has really slowed down for Jarrett. He’s played a lot of ball. He’s taken a lot of hits. We all understand that that really doesn’t bother him. He knows how to prepare and it’s been really positive. That’s how the quarterback position should be.”
Offense Taking Care of the Ball
Pruitt is impressed at the level the offense has been playing at this spring. Tennessee returns 12 players who made at least five starts last fall on offense, and with the help of returning veteran leadership, he believes it has helped make the adjustment smoother for everybody and limited turnovers on that side of the ball.
“It starts with attitude,” Pruitt said. “They practice with the right attitude. When they made a mistake, they didn’t let it bother them, they played the next play. They played harder, played more physical. Executed at a higher level. When you do those things, you tend to have success.”
Bituli Leading the Charge on Defense
In his second spring in coach Pruitt’s system, rising senior linebacker Daniel Bituli is leading the defense at inside linebacker.
“He’s doing a much better job being a communicator,” Pruitt said. “Which is important because you have to be the quarterback of the defense. The longer you do something that you’re familiar with, obviously you should improve. And I think he will.”
Bituli recorded 79 tackles in 2018, including 6.5 tackles for loss, a sack and a deflected pass. He was also named to the PFF College SEC Defensive Team of the Week three times in 2018.
Flowers Focusing on Football
Rising sophomore Trevon Flowers, who appeared in seven games last season before suffering a collarbone injury, will be focused solely on football this spring. Flowers was a standout baseball player in high school and worked out on the diamond with the Vols this winter, but he will focus solely on football this spring.
“He’s doing football right now,” Pruitt said. “He did baseball early on. He’s going to redshirt in baseball and concentrate on football, but he has a future doing both.”
Tennessee Head Coach Jeremy Pruitt Transcript-
2019 Spring Practice No. 3 – March 11, 2019
“For the first day of pads, offensively, I thought our guys executed fairly well. We had couple situations in practice as far as third-down and I thought the guys did a really good job. We seemed to finish plays a lot better as far as holding onto the ball with quarterback and center exchanges. We seemed to play to the whistle with more of an attitude, so that was a positive there. It felt like we cut down some on our offensive penalties today, which I’m sure helps. Defensively, I didn’t feel like I saw enough guys straining out there. To me, we need to get more people to the ball and have to control the line of scrimmage. We have to finds a way to create some turnovers. In three practices, I think our offense has done a really good job of not turning the football over, so our defense needs to find a way to get turnovers. I wasn’t really satisfied with our kickers today during our punting period. They didn’t kick the ball the way that we’d like to kick it and we really have to improve there. We have some good competition there, so hopefully we’ll see some improvement there over the next few weeks.”
On the defense not straining enough:
“I would just say that our offense kicked the defense’s tail today about as bad as I’ve seen a full-padded practice.”
On Trevon Flowers’ spring schedule between baseball and football:
“He’s doing football right now. He did baseball early on. He’s going to redshirt in baseball and concentrate on football, but he has a future doing both.”
On players that are sitting out spring practice having their fall playing time affected:
“There were very few players that looked like defensive players out there to me today, so I would say that they would have a tremendous opportunity to contribute.”
On Trey Smith, who is out indefinitely, dressing out in full uniform:
“He’s part of the team. When it comes to being injured, he’s not injured. Trey plans on playing football one day again. That’s his hope and that’s what he’s working hard to do, so he wants to make sure that he gets an opportunity to watch from behind so he has a good idea for the calls and techniques.”
On what the offense did today to outplay the defense:
“It starts with attitude. They practiced with the right attitude. When they made a mistake, they didn’t let it bother them, and they played the next play. They played harder and more physical, and they executed at a higher level. When you do those things, you tend to have success.”
On if there is any timetable for Trey Smith’s return:
“We’re under the same protocol. He’s doing everything but contact right now. So, when we go out there and do offseason conditioning, he’s running probably faster than everybody else at his position. So, he does everything but contact.”
On what led to using protective helmet covers in spring practice:
“It was a discussion that we had at the SEC meetings amongst the coaches. We’re all always trying to figure out a way to keep out game safer. So, there’s a few teams in the league that have used them. So, we decided to do that with guys at certain positions. offensive line, defensive line, running backs and linebackers.”
On what has led to the offense coming out hot in spring practice:
“There’s a lot of factors there. Our offensive guys have a lot of experience. The guys are hungry to have success. There’s good leadership on that side of the ball. Jim (Chaney) has done a nice job with the rest of the coaches on the staff to teach the guys and demand that they do it the right way, and it’s showed up at each practice. So, we’ve got a long way to go on that side of the ball, but there’s been lots of positives to me.”
On Daniel Bituli’s room for growth and his play this spring:
“I think Daniel’s very bright. He’s a tough guy. He’s a physical football player. I think, being the second year, he’s looking to be more consistent and I would say that’s probably the big thing. He has the skillset to do everything. He just needs to be more consistent. I think with a year of experience under his belt, having a better idea of what each call is and the techniques within the call. He’s doing a much better job being a communicator, which is important because you have to be the quarterback of the defense. The longer you do something that you’re familiar with, obviously you should improve and I think he will.”
On developing the defense:
“I think it starts in recruiting. Guys that create turnovers on Fridays create them on Saturday. Then, you have to train them a certain way. You have to have awareness, as a player, when to take a shot on the ball and when to tackle the guy when you have a guy stood up. Are you going to pepper the guy or are you going to rip at the ball? There’s lots of judgment in that. If you have great pass rushers, guys that can win one-on-one, obviously putting pressure on the quarterback does that. You have got to be able to put pressure on the offense, whether it’s by rushing four, rushing six or rushing five. You have got to be able to hide the stress, put pressure on them when the ball’s in the air. You have got to have ballhawks.”
On what he’s seen from Jarrett Guarantano:
“(Jarrett) has more experience than the other guys. I think with every young football player there’s a lot of unknowns. I think some of these younger guys — they possibly get a little uptight. They’re all talented guys, but until you get out there and you’ve done it a little bit it takes a while until the game slows down. I think the game has really slowed down for Jarrett. He’s played a lot of ball. He’s taken a lot of hits. I think we all understand that really doesn’t bother him. I think he’s got a pretty good understanding for what we’re trying to do. He knows how to prepare. I think it’s been really positive. That’s how the quarterback position should be.”