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Tennessee holds scrimmage at Neyland Stadium

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (UTSports.com)-- Tennessee football head coach Jeremy Pruitt got a first look at his team in game-like situations as the Vols competed in their first scrimmage of the spring season on Saturday at Neyland Stadium.

Playing in cold, rainy conditions, the offensive and defensive units had a chance to battle through nearly 120 snaps. Pruitt was able to observe how well his players executed assignments and how much energy they played with inside the stadium despite the conditions.  

“We didn’t have the best weather out there today,” Pruitt said. “It was nice and cool, but our field actually drains really well so that was a positive for us. We did get to go outside, we didn’t have to go inside. I think we snapped the ball - our 1’s and 2’s, I think it was somewhere between 110 and 120 snaps. We did get some good work, some good, quality work. The first time really going live.”

One particular aspect of being able to play outdoors was that it allowed for the team to practice special teams situations.

“Outside, you have an opportunity to do the kicking game, which was good,” Pruitt said. “We had a chance to do that live, so we can see where we’re at there.”

While Saturday served as a chance for the players to show what they can do in games physically, Pruitt did note after that the body language he saw throughout the scrimmage will be something to be improved upon going forward.

“I could’ve turned my head when the ball was being snapped and not watched the play, and then look back around, and I could’ve told you what happened without looking at the down and distance, all based off body language,” Pruitt said. “That’s not a good thing… One of the most important things in any sport is to be able to keep your poise. Keep your pose, play the next play. So, that’s one thing we need to improve on for sure.”

FEW TURNOVERS  
Pruitt noted the Vols need to tackle and finish better, but added that there were few turnovers in the scrimmage – a good thing for the offense, but problematic for the defense. 

“One thing that just jumps out to me is we have to be a much better tackling team,” Pruitt said. “Guys need a little bit better form to finish…At the same time, not a lot of turnovers which is good for the offense, but didn’t get a lot for the defense. One thing we need to do is we need to be opportunistic. If we get a chance to finish on a ball then we have be able to finish, at the same time we have take care of it on offense.”

Head Coach Jeremy Pruitt Scrimmage Press Conference Transcript

Opening Statement:
“We didn’t have the best weather out there today. It was nice and cool, but our field actually drains really well so that was a positive for us. We did get to go outside, we didn’t have to go inside. I think we snapped the ball - our 1’s and 2’s, I think it was somewhere between 110 and 120 snaps. We did get some good work, some good, quality work. The first time really going live One thing that just jumps out to me is we gotta be a much better tackling team. Guys need a little bit better form to finish. On the offensive line, we need to learn how to finish, at wide receiver, any time the ball is out on the perimeter. The one thing I didn’t see today, I didn’t see our offensive players or our O-linemen going and peppering the defensive players, knocking them off the ball carrier. At the same time, not a lot of turnovers which is good for the offense, but didn’t get a lot for the defense. One thing we need to do is we need to be opportunistic. If we get a chance to finish on a ball then we gotta be able to finish, at the same time we gotta take care of it on offense.”

On what he saw out of running backs during scrimmage:
“For one, to me is when the play is over, do we got the ball? Obviously that’s the most important thing we’ll ever do is make sure we got the ball at the end of the play. Sometimes in these scrimmages, it’s hard to tell. We’re down some players at certain positions and one guy may get the luck of the draw today, so he’s in there with a group of guys that they all go in one direction, block the right guys. I know you probably think I’m crazy when I say that but you’d be shocked how many times on Saturdays, teams don’t all execute, all 11 guys at one time. From a tackling standpoint, one thing I did notice is our guys did not go down with the first contact, which may be good or bad depending on how you look at it. Obviously if they’re not going down first contact, then the defense needs to do a better job of wrapping up and tackling. So to me, that could be a positive.”

On where tackling issues come from:
“The big thing in tackling, the first thing is you gotta understand how you are attacking the ball. So if you’re inside out and the ball carrier’s outside, then you want to press the leverage that you have, which is inside. Well, is there another defender out there, is there sideline out there? Likewise, if you’re out there and you’re coming from the outside in, which doesn’t happen much unless you’re a flat defender, you gotta squeeze the ball back. How many are out there, do you twin tackle? So it’s an awareness deal. I think the easiest thing is, if you’re gonna be a great tackling team, you gotta get your feet in position for contact. The most important thing to me when it comes to tackling is your feet, because you gotta be able to get them in the right position, you gotta keep them underneath your shoulder pads, you can’t stop them. A lot of people have bad habits when they tackle guys in the open field, they want to go up there and stop and squat their feet. You can’t change direction, so you gotta be able to squat down and open your hips and keep your eyes and chest up.”

On how the team did mentally with handling game like reps:
“I could’ve turned my head when the ball was being snapped and not watched the play, and then look back around, and I could’ve told you what happened without looking at the down and distance, all based off body language. That’s not a good thing. There’s going to be adverse situations in the games, there’s gonna be situations where things don’t go our way. How are we gonna play, how are we gonna respond? It’s like I told the guys out there today, there’s a reason they put four quarters on the scoreboard. You want to play well in all of them, obviously you want to play well in every play, but there’s gonna be times that things are gonna go you’re way and sometimes they’re not. But the big thing that I saw is body language, and to me a lot of guys carrying their feelings on their shoulders. One of the most important things in any sport is to be able to keep your poise. Keep your pose, play the next play. So, that’s one thing we need to improve on for sure.”

On how quarterback reps were split up on the day and what he saw from the unit as a whole:
“The quarterback position is unique in the fact that it takes everybody—offensive line, wide receivers—offensive line can be blocking perfect, give you a great pocket, and receivers don’t run the right route. Or, the same thing, but maybe the running back doesn’t block on the correct side. All the sudden, because one guy made a mistake it affects the entire play. At the same time, you can take a guy at quarterback and he can throw the ball and it may be a touchdown, but he wasn’t supposed to throw the ball there. He shouldn’t have even been looking to that side of the field, so are we supposed to go over there, pat him on the back, and say ‘hey, great job, good throw’? No, to me you’re not. You look at it and yeah, it’s a touchdown, but most of the time it is going to be an interception. It’s kind of a little different the way that position is. To me, you have got to watch. I will have to watch the tape to get an idea about how exactly those guys played. One thing, there weren’t a lot of turnovers, so that is a good thing from that position.”

On if he liked how they acted in regard to pre-snap discipline and getting lined up:
“There were way too many penalties on both sides. They were all pre-snap penalties. It was lack of discipline. It was lack of poise—just being able to get lined up and function. We definitely got to improve there, and the interesting part is: when does it happen? Not a whole lot of penalties at the beginning of the scrimmage, but toward the end, where you start trying to figure out who has the mental toughness and can sustain, that is when the penalties show up. That definitely has to be addressed.”

On what he has seen from early enrollees Alontae Taylor and Greg Emerson early on in Spring ball:
“All the guys that came in during the Winter conditioning for the first time this semester for everybody it’s something new. Whether you’re coming from a junior college or coming from a high school, it doesn’t matter how good the high school program was, or how bad, it’s all going to be new. It’s going to class, tutors, nutrition, the correct diet, and the workout is going to be different. All of these guys have adapted, and they are learning. I am sure they will be better for it. Historically, the guys who have come in early, they usually put themselves in a position to have a chance to play in the Fall. That is not necessarily always the case either. I have seen it happen both ways. The fact that the guys that did come in early, when they start school this Summer or start school in the Fall, you have got practice, and it all starts taking off there, at least they have done it before in the Spring. They will have an advantage from that.”

On how to correct negative body language:
“I’ve been coaching a long time. Not as long as some folks, but long enough. Sometimes you have teams that have really great leaders on the team. I’ve coached on teams and there’s been one individual, didn’t matter if he played offense or defense, when he said let’s go, it affected both sides of the ball. I’ve coached on teams that there was several leaders in the group, on either side of the ball. I can tell you that there’s been two teams that I have coached that the coaching staff were the leaders of the team. And we won national championships with those teams. The coaching staff had to say ‘let’s go’. Football’s a physical game, and everybody’s trying impose their will and make the other team quit and all that. A lot of times you can see the look in their eyes. You’re having a great year, things get tough, sometimes it’s easy for guys to say, ‘we’ve had a great year’ and they kind of start accepting the fact that they’re defeated. And I’ve seen staffs that I’ve been on that kind of bring guys out of that and find a way. When they couldn’t find a way, we helped them find a way. So we have to figure out what kind of team we have. Do we have guys that have leadership that can affect everybody else that way? Do they even know how to do it? And if they don’t we have to be the ones that teach them."

On what from the scrimmage encouraged him:
“That we got to go outside. To me, that was a big deal. We’ve sat here and practiced for eight days. When we looked at the weather last night, it didn’t look too promising, so the thing I was concerned about was after eight days this is kind if a test, you want to see what you got. If it was raining like crazy and cold — cold’s fine — but windy with the rain coming down, it might not be a good indication of what you have. So after eight days I wanted to make sure that we kind of had a good idea of where we were at. The fact that we did get to go outside was great. We haven’t had to go inside yet this spring. Outside, you have an opportunity to do the kicking game, which was good. We had a chance to do that live, so we can see where we’re at there.”

On if he threw any difficult schemes at the offense or defense:
“I didn’t call any plays on either side of the ball, so I think our guys kept it simple. The big deal is, you’re going to have some guys that learning comes a little easier to, and some guys that maybe have more experience and pick things up faster. To me, today’s about trying to figure out who the best players are. Who can block, who can tackle, who can catch, who can run? Who has a positive effect on their teammate? To me, that’s what today was about. It wasn’t about trying to figure out who knows the most offense or who know the most defense. So to do that you need to keep it simple so the guys can go execute and play and we can get a true evaluation of who the best guys are.”

On the team’s physicality so far:
“When the ball is snapped you can usually hear a pop. Well we don’t hardly have the pop yet. So we have to get a little more pop.”

On the offensive line this spring:
“There’s several guys that we have that have played around here. As a group, I think coach Friend has mixed all these guys around. Guys are playing a lot of different positions, some of it because of necessity, some of its because it’s our belief that we need to haver multiple guys at each position. So again, you have five offensive lineman — I don’t know how many they have in the NFL, they carry like seven or eight on a trip, I don’t know what exactly it is, but if you have seven or eight you’re in great shape. So you better have three centers. And with our group we’ve made probably everybody snap just to make sure. But while you’re doing that and you're also learning a new system, you’re also learning how to play with a new pad level, all the intangibles it take to be a good offensive lineman. It starts adding up. Then you throw in the fact of what you’re going against every day defensively, the different looks and all that. I think our guys have definitely improved in nine days. I’ll have to watch a little bit today and see where it was at, but as a group, they have shown some improvement."

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