UT Sports Information
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee football head coach Jeremy Pruitt and the Vols officially kicked off a new era with their first practice of the season on Friday afternoon at Haslam Field.
Pruitt was impressed with what he saw on Day 1 and noted the addition of a third full length outdoor practice field at Anderson Training Center. With the addition of the third field, the Vols have the ability to practice side-by-side, giving coaches a better opportunity to evaluate.
“It was good to get out there on the grass today,” Pruitt said. “One of the big things I was excited about was the extra practice field that we had.
“That made it a lot easier to do our drills the way we wanted to. It will help our football team over the course of the season. Being able to practice the way we wanted to practice was a really good positive.”
On top of the addition of practice space, the Vols also welcomed nearly 30 players to the field who did not participate in spring practice.
Pruitt touched specifically on the boost provided by the return of linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. Prior to missing the 2017 season and most of spring practice due to injury, Kirkland Jr. recorded 111 tackles and 11.5 tackles for loss during the 2015 and 2016 seasons combined, capturing Freshman All-SEC honors in 2015.
“[Kirkland Jr.] didn’t participate very much in the spring, but he picks things up really fast,” Pruitt said. “Today’s really the first day that I saw him out there and practice.
“I think the guy’s got instincts, and I’ve watched him play back in old film. You don’t play in this league as a true freshman unless you’ve got something about you, and he did so I think he’s got a chance to really help us.”
Jeremy Pruitt Quotes
“It was good to get out there on the grass today. One of the big things I was excited about was the extra practice field that we had. That made it a lot easier to do our drills the way we wanted to. It will help our football team over the course of the season. Being able to practice the way we wanted to practice was a really good positive.
“Just like the first day of any practice, there are some things that really excite you. You see some guys flash for the first time. We had a lot of guys that it was their first time together. For me, the positives on offense was our huddle organization, getting in and out of the huddle and getting the plays run. We didn’t have any problems with the verbiage, which is good because we have two new quarterbacks out there. It felt like the communication on the defensive side carried over from the spring.
“You can see a lot of our young guys have worked this summer. I think our older guys have done a good job of trying to prepare them. The one thing you can’t do during the summer is matching the intensity once practice starts, the coaches are out there and the tempo. The players can’t get that done on their own during the summer. Obviously, it was a shock to guys who were out there for the first time. Some of these guys probably thought we were halfway through practice, and we hadn’t even finished flex yet. That’s always the case with these young guys because they have lots of nerves and anxiety, but I thought it was a good day. Anybody can look good with head gear and shorts on. To me, right now is about learning what to do and how to do it. When we get closer to putting on the pads, that tells about who you really are.”
(On having a third field)
“It allows you to practice side-by-side. In the spring, we had two fields that were running long ways. That makes it hard to two-spot and go back and forth with swapping in drills. Having two fields side-by-side, you can run parallel with each other and go back and forth.”
(On Austin Pope working with the fullbacks)
“When you look at tight ends, the good ones can play in the c area, in the backfield off the ball or they can flex out and play in space. Only a few of them can do that, but if you get smart guys who play with toughness, they give you an opportunity and know what to do. I think Austin is that way. He is a guy who knows what to do, and that give him a chance, which is half the battle. When you play football, it’s amazing how much knowledge gives you an edge. The guys who pick things up and understand what you and the other team is trying to do and know how to play situational football, it doesn’t take them as many steps to get to one spot as it sometimes takes others.”
(On the 20 offensive linemen in the spring and how much more confident he feels today)
“Well, we’ve got to develop some depth there. At least we’ve got numbers, that would be the start. In the spring, we didn’t have numbers. At least we have a few more. Now, we’ve got to develop some football players, and it’s hard when you’ve got head gears on either side of the ball. Just learning to step with the right foot, play with the right pad level, getting your hands in the right spot and learning how to finish. But you also have to be smart as you do it.”
(On Darrin Kirkland Jr.’s situation and what he’s seen from him since the spring and how much of a “veteran presence” he has)
“I think Darrin is a fast learner. He didn’t participate very much in the spring, but he picks things up really fast. Today’s really the first day that I saw him out there in practice. I think the guy’s got instincts, and I’ve watched him play back in old film. You don’t play in this league as a true freshman unless you’ve got something about you, and he did so I think he’s got a chance to really help us.”
(On Emmit Gooden and how his body type will benefit his position)
“He is a big body. I think you need big bodies in this league. We don’t have enough, so everyone that we can get that know how to play and knows the intangibles that we want to play with will help us. He’s got a lot to learn and a long way to go, but we’re glad to have him.”
(On having more guys this fall instead of spring)
“I just think the longer they have been in the program, the more they are used to the expectations that we have, rather if it’s in the classroom, study hall, weight room, on the field, or how we practice. We are nowhere close to where we want to be, not even close to it, but at least we do have an idea. We do have an understanding of what we are trying to get done, so that is half the battle.”
(On organization after spring practice)
“I think during the summertime when you have player-led practices, I think it gives a chance for people to step into leadership roles. You know nobody is out there but the players, so when you get a group in there sometimes you get people that can get everybody to do things a certain way, and then you have people that just talk about it, and they don’t have an effect on anybody else. I think it gives guys a chance that are true leaders to kind of start doing that. It gives guys that are going to be in support roles, where they can help to support the leaders, which I think is important. I think they have done a good job of that this summer. You can obviously see by some of our young players they know kind of what is going on they aren’t used to the intensity or the length of practice, but they do know what is going on so that is positive.”
(On the corners and Bryce Thompson, Kenneth George, and an alpha dog)
“Bryce and Kenneth for their first practice, they showed some promise. They both have good feet, are heavy handed, play the ball well, have instincts and have to learn what to do. I think we got several guys that have the abilities to be leaders on defense. You know it takes a while for everybody to get in their place a little bit and kind of feel each other out, but it’s hard to do that until you put the pads on and everybody is out there. We have some guys that didn’t participate in spring that I think have really good leadership ability. We have some guys that participated in spring that do, so I think it all kind of works its way out, and probably the closer we get to the first game, hopefully some of those guys will kind of step forward.”