KNOXVILLE — Except for an injury to the top returning defensive lineman, the early returns in the first two weeks of Tennessee’s fall camp have been positive.
Coach Jeremy Pruitt continued to deliver that message following Saturday’s practice, though today’s scrimmage at Neyland Stadium will tell a bigger story.
Pruitt said he was pleased with the team’s energy during practice Thursday and Friday. The players will have a chance to show how far they’ve come when they go all out today.
“We’ve kind of got three groups of players,” Pruitt said. “We’ve got guys that know what to do. They have experience, and they kind of know how to play. We’ve got guys that know how to play, know what to do, but they don’t have any experience. And then we’ve got a group of guys that have the ability, but they have yet to learn what to do.
“Our coaches are doing a really good job pushing these guys and getting them there. It’ll be interesting when we scrimmage to see where some of these guys are at.”
The coaching staff will be evaluating every player, but one position that will receive the most attention is the offensive line. The Vols were one of the worst units in the SEC last season and though there is optimism that they will be better this year, it is too early to tell what they’ll look like.
Pruitt said the staff has an idea of 10 or 11 players who are in the mix but that they are not close to determining who the starters will be. He said they have worked numerous combinations and that several players have put good practices together.
The competition, Pruitt added, has been good.
“We’re looking for guys that don’t make mental mistakes and don’t beat themselves — guys that know what they’re supposed to do,” Pruitt said. “We’re going to keep the calls simple on both sides of the ball to give the guys a chance to have success playing with the right temperament, playing until the whistle blows, being consistent.
“Things aren’t always going to go their way, so how do they handle adversity? Who can sustain? Who can finish?”
Elsewhere on that side of the ball, true freshman Brian Mauer and redshirt freshman JT Shrout are competing for the backup quarterback spot behind Jarrett Guarantano. Neither has played a college snap so today’s scrimmage is the closest they’ll get to proving themselves in a sped-up environment.
Pruitt noted that Mauer has an edge in that he can extend a play when it breaks down and hurt a defense with his feet. That may not make a difference, though, if he keeps throwing interceptions.
“Both guys need experience,” Pruitt said. “They’ve both got really good arm talent...They’ve got to quit throwing the ball to the other team. They’ve got to take command of the offense when they’re out there. They’ve got to understand situational football.
“We’re throwing a lot at them, and both of them are doing a really good job competing every day. They’ve created a lot of players — both of them have.”
Exercises like the one the Vols will go through today tend to separate players. Pruitt said he has never seen a player who was bad during practice be good during a scrimmage but that it is common for players to practice well and disappear during scrimmages.
Pruitt said there are always players who are good in drills but disappear during scrimmages. He said he has never seen a player who was bad during practice be good during scrimmages.
Today is the first chance to unproven players to show they deserve a spot high on the depth chart and for proven players to show they are comfortable and confident enough to stay above the rest.
“We’ve had two really good practices,” Pruitt said. “I like the energy. When you’re not having to coach effort (and) the guys are policing themselves, it allows you to be a coach and coach the details and fundamentals. That has been fun to do. We are improving.”