KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The Vols were back on the practice field on Tuesday after an off day on Sunday and a team movie day on Monday.
“There was some good tempo there on the offensive side today," head coach Jeremy Pruitt said after practice number 16 of fall camp. "Again, I am going to say it. We have more experience on offense. We have more maturity. When you give them a couple days off and go back to work, you would expect to have a little bit of juice about them. The offensive side did."
The biggest question mark on the offensive side of the ball heading into the season is the offensive line. Tennessee doesn't seem to be very close to deciding on a starting five up front and Pruitt says they could rotate a bunch of guys through the O-line during games.
“I think we’ll probably play 8-10 guys. I really do. I think there are going to be that many guys that deserve to play. I think we’re going to need to play that many guys. We’ll keep working them that way. It’s good for competition. Nobody is going to get complacent. Whoever performs the best everyday will be with the ones. It’s a production-based industry. Do it that way and it will be a good thing,” Pruitt said.
On the other side of the ball, Pruitt is looking for more consistency and mental toughness from his defense.
"When I look at the defensive side of the ball, a lot of guys are capable of being good football players. They have yet to do it at the college level. So you are looking for consistency every day in practice. We have to develop that and learn to push pass and show a little bit more mental toughness — when we get sudden changes and situations like that," Pruitt said.
The defense is young. The Vols only have three healthy scholarship seniors on that side of the ball - safety Nigel Warrior, middle linebacker Daniel Bituli and outside linebacker Darrell Taylor. One of the youngsters that Pruitt has praised during camp is freshman linebacker Henry To'o To'o and he seems to be continuing to play well.
“Henry has been pretty consistent. We’ve had several young guys that have been really consistent, which is a positive. Lot of it is maybe maturity. I don’t know what it is, but you see it everywhere. I’ve seen it over the years and you can’t predict it. It don’t matter who’s got how many stars or where they played at, anything like that. Just sometimes when it kind of gets going in fall camp, some guys they don’t blink and some guys do. Usually they all get it eventually. He’s picked it up pretty fast.”
Some other young guys are still figuring things out and Pruitt says the coaches have to remember to be patient.
"We have lots of guys on our team that are going to have a chance to be really good football players one day. And we have to understand that as coaches. I say all the time: Don’t place unrealistic expectations on them. My dad has always had saying that for every freshman you’re playing, it’s a loss you should have on your record. That’s the way he looks at it in high school. If you look at it along the way, it’s probably about right,” Pruitt said.
GARLAND BACK WITH TEAM
Defensive lineman Kurott Garland practiced on Tuesday for the first time in fall camp. He previously had his name in the transfer portal while contemplating leaving Tennessee.
"You’re talking about a young man that comes here as a freshman. He had several obstacles to go through physically. He was thinking about possibly transferring. We supported him all the way through, and in the end, he decided to come back here. He’s here. We’re excited that he’s here. I think the guy has lots of ability. He didn’t get to go through spring, but he took some reps out there today, and he’s got to go through a little bit of acclimation here, and we have a plan for him. But he’s a guy that I think has lots of upside, has done everything that we’ve asked him to do in this program since he’s been here. We’re excited that he’s here. We’ll see how he responds over the next couple of days, being back out there,” Pruitt said.
The redshirt freshman appeared in four games in 2018 but did not record any statistics. Tennessee could use all the depth it can get on the defensive line. It's only senior on that unit, Emmit Gooden, is done for the season with a torn ACL and the Vols have only two players on the D-line who have recorded a tackle in an SEC game.
Tennessee still has not heard back from the NCAA on a waiver for junior defensive line transfer Aubrey Solomon. Pruitt said that wouldn't change the way the Vols practice until they start installing a game plan for Georgia State on Tuesday or Wednesday next week.