KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt spent much of the spring discussing the inadequacies of the Vols’ program he took over.
But on Tuesday night at the Big Orange Caravan stop in Memphis, Pruitt sounded decidedly more positive. This was true particularly when it came time to discuss the secondary he oversees.
Charles Kelly is the position coach for the safeties, and Terry Fair technically oversees the corners, but make no mistake about it, Pruitt is the secondary coach.
“I thought we did improve this spring back there, so I’m not disappointed in that group at all,” Pruitt said.
Pruitt’s take is somewhat surprising considering Jarrett Guarantano’s MVP performance against the starting secondary in the spring game. The Vols’ redshirt sophomore quarterback completed 15 of 27 passes for 226 yards with 2 touchdowns and no interceptions.
“There’s lots of places that we need to improve on as a football team, especially on defense,” Pruitt said. “If you’re gonna be a good defensive team, it starts from the back and you work your way forward.
“You’re probably only as good as your secondary guys are on defense, because that allows you to put pressure on the other team, so we’ve got to make some improvement there.”
Top SEC pass defense?
Pruitt inherited a defense that ranked first in the SEC and third in the nation in passing yards allowed, at just 161.7 yards per game.
The unspoken part of that statistic was that teams didn’t need to pass because they were able to run effectively. That same Tennessee defense ranked 125th in the nation, allowing a staggering 251.3 yards per game on the ground.
Still, with both starting cornerbacks and star nickleback Rashaan Gaulden moved on, it has been fair to speculate on the problems in the Vols’ secondary.
Pruitt most notably moved talented freshman Alontae Taylor from receiver to cornerback in spring drills, along with explosive tailback Carlin Fils-aime.
The moves were telling in that Pruitt is determined to get some of the best athletes on defense — a typical move for a defensive-minded head coach from the Nick Saban coaching tree.
West Virginia passing threats
Tennessee opens against West Virginia on Sept. 1 in Charlotte, N.C. Last season, the Mountaineers ranked 13th in the nation with more than 300 yards passing per game. Returning quarterback Will Grier, the former Florida star, is considered by some to be tops at his position in the Big 12.
ESPN.com has suggested the Mountaineers might have the best offense in college football in 2018.
West Virginia undoubtedly has one of the nation’s best receivers in 6-foot-4, 203-pound David Sills V, who led the nation with 18 TD catches in 2017 and was a Biletnikoff Award finalist.
Pruitt has said that Tennessee’s cornerback will play an aggressive, pressing style and that will not change.
“I’m not going to change the way I coach,” Pruitt said. “I’ve had too much success doing it that way, so I’m going to coach the same way.”
Big Orange Caravan headlines
- Vols basketball coach Rick Barnes addressing missed NCAA tourney opportunity
- Tennessee AD Phillip Fulmer brushes off Alabama, Georgia comparisons
- Vague answers from Jeremy Pruitt fuel speculation on transfers, starters
- Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt reveals what he misses about recruiting
- Phillip Fulmer not allowing administrative turmoil to disrupt Tennessee athletics
- Jeremy Pruitt learning that he and Phillip Fulmer ‘see a lot of things the same way’
- Tennessee AD Phillip Fulmer leads football coach Jeremy Pruitt on caravan stop