Vol Report: Pruitt Raves About WRs Coach Johnson, Welcomes Kamara to Practice 

Head Coach Jeremy Pruitt Press Conference Transcript Below

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee football team returned to Haslam Field for the sixth practice of the spring on Saturday.

The Vols were once again in full pads and wrapping up the second week of practice.

Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt liked the “juice” several players brought to the field during the session, but acknowledged the Vols will need every player performing with a high level of intensity and excitement to become successful.

“We had beautiful weather out there today, and we had some guys that were jumping around,” Pruitt said. “You know, it’s Saturday. For us that’s game day. So, we had some guys that kind of moved around out there and had some juice about them. There were some guys that started out practice a little sluggish, but they got going as practice went, and then we had some guys that, you know what, they just kind of took it. So, the thing about it is it kind of bounces around who has got the juice day to day. One thing we have to do is we have to get where everybody is at their highest level every day. That’ll make the competition a lot better, and our guys will improve a lot faster if everybody has kind of got it every day.”

Kamara Attends Practice
Reigning NFL Rookie of the Year Alvin Kamara attended Tennessee’s practice on Saturday.

Kamara led all rookies with 14 total touchdowns and ranked second with 1,554 yards from scrimmage in 2017 for the New Orleans Saints. He captured the Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year honor as well as the Associated Press Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Kamara was a team captain, totaled 1,188 all-purpose yards and scored 13 touchdowns in his final season with the Vols in 2016.

“I think it’s good for the program,” Pruitt said about former players returning to practice. “It’s good to get everybody back. Tennessee is a football program that has a lot of pride and has had a lot of pride for a long, long time. It’s like I tell the guys, they were playing football here long before we were born, and they’re going to be playing football here long after we’re gone. It’s our job to leave it better than we found it. And, we’re going to take a lot of pride in doing that. So, there’s been a lot of men over the years that have worked very hard to build this program up, and I get it, and I want these guys to come back. I know the sense of pride when they come back, and I think they like what they see from our guys.

“Our guys are working hard. We’re not perfect, but we’re working, I can assure you that. They’re getting coached in everything that they do. I want as many former VFLs back as we can get. It’s going to take all of us to get this program back where it’s supposed to be, and I think that everybody is willing to do that.”

Kamara is one of several VFLs who have come by to watch spring ball over the last two weeks. College Football Hall of Fame member Johnny Majors and Buffalo Bills tight end Jason Croom were also in attendance on Saturday.

Johnson Comes with Impressive Resume 
Unlike several of the position coaches who had direct ties to Pruitt, wide receivers coach David Johnson had never worked with the Vols’ head coach until this spring. Still, the former Memphis and Tulane assistant coach and New Orleans high school head coach had been on Pruitt’s radar for years.

“A couple years ago, I had a friend of mine that I coached with, and he told me, ‘Jeremy, one of these days you’ll get an opportunity to be a head football coach, here’s a guy that I know, I’ve seen and I’ve worked with that you need to keep on your radar,’” Pruitt said. “I never actually met him, but I did a lot of research. Everybody raves about David, and now I’ve seen him out on the field since he’s been here. He’s very knowledgeable, and he could coach more than one position. Here’s a guy that was head coach at St. Augustine High School in New Orleans. So he could actually coach any position. He does a really good job, he’s very demanding, I like that about him, he has a hard nose approach, so we’re glad that he’s here.”

Johnson was particularly impressive the last two years at Memphis, mentoring consensus All-American wide receiver Anthony Miller. Miller went from a walk-on to setting school records with the Tigers and scoring 18 touchdowns in 2017.

Head Coach Jeremy Pruitt Press Conference Transcript – March 31, 2018

Opening Statement:
“We had beautiful weather out there today, and we had some guys that were jumping around. You know, it’s Saturday. For us that’s game day. So, we had some guys that kind of moved around out there and had some juice about them. There were some guys that started out practice a little sluggish, but they got going as practice went, and then we had some guys that, you know what, they just kind of took it. So, the thing about it is it kind of bounces around who has got the juice day to day. You know, one thing we have to do is we have to get where everybody is at their highest level every day. That’ll make the competition a lot better, and our guys will improve a lot faster if everybody has kind of got it every day. So, ill open it up to questions.”

On the offense getting the better of the defense last practice and if the defense has sorted it out since then:
“It’s up and down. One thing I’ll say is when all 11 guys on our offense do what they’re supposed to do, they have a chance to have success. Now, that’s what you’ve got to do, and that’s on both sides of the ball. You’d be amazed when you watch games, how many times people make plays against our defense because of something we did or because they’re better than us. Same thing on the offensive side, you see people make mistakes whether its someone who didn’t step with their correct foot, didn’t get the right hat placement, maybe didn’t push crack, if a guy is supposed to run an out-cut, and he runs and in-cut. Maybe the quarterback is supposed to throw the ball to this side, but his eyes are on the wrong side or he holds the ball too long. So, it’s interesting if you know what to do, you know how to do it and why it’s important to do it that way, it’s a lot easier to have success.”

On how he would evaluate the offensive line through two weeks and if he sees any leaders emerging in that group:
“Yeah, Coach (Will) Friend is the leader of that group. You know, somedays, you’ve got guys that are doing what they need to, and some days they’re not, and that’s why we’re not where we need to be. The whole deal is to try and get everybody to play at their best all the time. You know, for the offensive lineman, it’s a completely new system. So, there’s lots of things that we’re doing now that they haven’t done before. So, it’s a learning curve, and we’ve got some new guys out there and some new guys playing different positions, and guys playing multiple positions. So, guys are working hard at it and they’ve improved. Today was probably the biggest improvement I’ve seen from the offensive line from practice to practice.”

On ball security for quarterbacks and running backs through practice so far: 
“Well, it’s not what we want. Obviously, if we don’t turn the ball over, were going to have a chance to win. Sometimes, you don’t have good ball security and the ball doesn’t get out. So, the way you practice, the defense has to be a ball-hawking defense, and they’ve got to attack the ball to force the offense to secure the ball. So, probably the two things that most dictate a football game is turnovers and explosive plays. So, we’ve got to get the ball on defense and we’ve got to protect it on offense.”

On injuries if injuries at linebacker to Darrin Kirkland, Jr. and Daniel Bituli are a set back for the unit?
“Well, it’s not a setback for us as a team, it is with those guys individually. So, there’s other guys that get opportunities. That’s the thing about football is that it’s a collision sport, so there’s guys that aren’t going to be able to play every week. We saw it last year where I was at, and it happens all over the country. People are going to get banged up. They may miss one game, they may miss a half, they may miss a half of a season. So, the next guy has to be able to execute and execute at a high level. That’s one of the reasons that we practice the way we do. That’s why we move people around, to try and teach multiple positions, so if somebody does get hurt, we can play the next best football player, and not necessarily the backup.”

On the possibility of more position changes, players returning to their previous positions or more player departures from the team since he addressed personnel during Week 1:
“Everybody is playing in the same spots that they have been, and nobody has left the team.”

On the benefit of former players coming back to practice:
“Well, I think it’s good for the program. It’s good to get everybody back. Tennessee is a football program that has a lot of pride and has had a lot of pride for a long, long time. It’s like I tell the guys, they were playing football here long before we were born, and they’re going to be playing football here long after we’re gone. It’s our job to leave it better than we found it. And, we’re going to take a lot of pride in doing that. So, there’s been a lot of men over the years that have worked very hard to build this program up, and I get it, and I want these guys to come back. I know the sense of pride when they come back, and I think they like what they see from our guys. Our guys are working hard. We’re not perfect, but we’re working, I can assure you that. They’re getting coached in everything that they do. I want as many former VFLs back as we can get. It’s going to take all of us to get this program back where it’s supposed to be, and I think that everybody is willing to do that.”

On how to teach players so that they retain knowledge well:
“Some guys are doing better than others. I think we have a great teaching progression. It’s worked everywhere we’ve been, and I think we have great teachers on our staff. I’ve said this before, I think the best teachers in the game are high school football coaches because when you go out there and teach a young man how to put on his uniform, how to wear his helmet, how to snap his shoulder pads, how to put his pads in his pants, how to get in the stance, how to tackle somebody for the first time, there’s a lot that goes into that. Right now, I have a three-year-old and one that’s about to be one, so what do we do? I have a basketball goal and we shoot right now. The one-year-old is shooting right now. We have golf clubs and if there’s a ball around they’re swinging them, they treat it like hockey. You put a ball on the tee, they’re trying to hit it. With football, you don’t really do that. Football is a developmental game. Some of the best players didn’t start playing until late in their high school careers. Some guys start at the age of four, some guys don’t start until they’re seniors in high school. You’re going to get better at it the longer you do it, and it takes a lot of people to give you the right picture. You’re not going to learn how to play linebacker unless you have someone running the ball and know how to take on a blocker and stuff like that. So it’s hard to get that all put together when you’re seven and eight years old if that makes sense. Our guys are committed when they get opportunities. I see them over in the film room a lot, I saw a bunch over here yesterday watching special teams tape. So I think our guys are hungry, I think they want to be the best that they can possibly be, and we just have to keep coaching them. It’s kind of like we have all true freshmen right now. So when you look at us from a program standpoint, nobody knows the expectations that we have as coaches. Everything we do, we have to coach it, from how we prepare, to walkthroughs, the entire thing. We blow the horn and sometimes these guys are still trying to figure out exactly where they go. So we have to coach it all, and our guys are eager to get it, and we’ll get better every day by doing that.”

On what he’s happy with the secondary and what needs to improve:
“Well if you’re out there a whole lot, you’ll find out that it takes a lot to make me proud. But I’m happy that they show up and come to work every day. There’s a lot that goes into being good in the secondary. You have to all be on the same page, you have to be great communicators, you have to have great eyes, you have to have awareness, know the down and distance, understand personnel and formations, be a great decision maker. The first thing I ask them was ‘did you play baseball?’. Some of them did and some of them didn’t, but most of the time if you’re swinging at it when it’s over your head, you’re probably not going to be very successful. So we have to have good decision makers.”

On getting some players back from injury and the affect that has:
“We have a bunch of guys that may not be participating fully in practice, but some of these guys are doing what they can. Craig Fitzgerald is doing a nice job with them over on that side, and I’ll tell you, most of them would rather practice than to be over there and be inside with him, I can assure you that.”

On how he got to know wide receivers coach David Johnson:
“A couple years ago, I had a friend of mine that I coached with, and he told me, ‘Jeremy, one of these days you’ll get an opportunity to be a head football coach, here’s a guy that I know, I’ve seen and I’ve worked with that you ned to keep on your radar.’ I never actually met him, but I did a lot of research. He’s from New Orleans, and one of my good friends, coach Burns, that’s been in Alabama, is a New Orleans native. I talked to coach Burns and a lot of guys from the city of New Orleans that are high school football coaches. Everybody raves about David, and now I’ve seen him out on the field since he’s been here. He’s very knowledgable, and he could coach more than one position. Here’s a guy that was head coach at St. Augustine High School in New Orleans. So he could actually coach any position. He does a really good job, he’s very demanding, I like that about him, he has a hard nose approach, so we’re glad that he’s here.”



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