KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A so-called “miserable” spring practice session has never been so needed at Tennessee, according to former Alabama quarterback and current SEC Network analyst Greg McElroy.
New Vols football coach Jeremy Pruitt was a colleague of McElroy’s when the two spent four years at Alabama together under coach Nick Saban.
Pruitt worked as director of player development for three years before ascending to defensive backs coach, then later returning as coordinator.
Following Nick Saban’s example
That Crimson Tide connection explains why McElroy has such a good read on what Pruitt is trying to emulate in rebuilding Tennessee football in the image of Saban’s Alabama program.
“There are a lot of [Tennessee] players that have been put through workouts and programs and things that they never envisioned,” McElroy said Tuesday on WNML radio.
“If you talk to any player, they’d say that this spring has been, for lack of a better word, ‘miserable,’ because the practices are so much more intense.
“There’s reps all the time, there’s competition all the time, and that’s necessary to building the foundation for a program that wants to compete for championships in the near future.”
Pruitt has been very direct in his assessments of the program this spring.
Big Orange curtain
Pruitt also limited players from speaking to the media and restricted information they were allowed to share. More than once, players declined to disclose their weight.
McElroy explained how there’s a method to such madness.
“I think that Jeremy wants to stress to his kids it’s never gonna be easy, it’s going to be adverse, it’s going to be difficult, there’s going to be times things aren’t going our way; we have to stick with it and not get dejected and come out the other side feeling good,” McElroy said.
“He’s going to make things in practice [seem like] a game-like situation, like we saw in the Orange and White spring game. He wants those situations to be exponentially more difficult than what any of the Volunteer players will face on Saturday in the SEC.”
That might not sound like fun, but Saban has made it work at Alabama. Pruitt, a first-time head coach, has made no attempt to shy away from the fact that he’s using that model.
Mantra for toughness
McElroy said the negativity and difficult times are what Pruitt is all about.
“That’s the whole mantra of what Jeremy Pruitt is trying to create. He wants Saturdays to be a cakewalk compared to the work they put in during the week and in the offseason,” McElroy said, “and I think that is what they are trying to do. I do think there were some guys that did not display 100 percent effort, but I also think there’s a lot of thinking involved, too.
“When you are trying to implement a new philosophy offensively and defensively, it’s difficult to play really fast when you are thinking.”
Pruitt’s hope is that by working his players harder in practices, the games will seem easier.