KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee receiver Jauan Jennings made a catch during the Orange and White Game, but most people probably didn’t notice it because he was on the sideline.
It happened when Will McBride was throwing the ball away during a fruitless scramble, but it no doubt gave the ultra-competitive Jennings a rush of adrenaline, as he was among 12 players not yet cleared to play in the Orange and White Game.
“I’ve been out there coaching on the field, those guys that have been in the pit, I haven’t watched any of that,” Pruitt said, referring to the area where players rehabilitate on stationary bikes or swinging sledgehammers.
“Everybody over there is doing exactly what we want them to do, I’ll be excited when we get those guys out there this summer.”
Jennings will have as much impact upon returning of any of the injured players.
It’s easy to make the case that Tennessee would have won three more games last season had Jennings not suffered a season-ending wrist injury in the first game of the season against Georgia Tech.
The Vols had red zone and passing issues in losses to Florida, South Carolina and Kentucky that one jump ball to the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Jennings could have solved.
SEC Network analyst Greg McElroy said that, after talking with Pruitt, he believes Jennings has a new perspective.
“It almost got taken away from him,” McElroy said, referring to how Jennings was dismissed from the team last November after a profanity-filled social media post. “I think he’s appreciative of the new opportunity in front of him.”
Phillip Fulmer opens door
Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer opened the door for Jennings to return, but he left the final decision and conditions to Pruitt’s discretion.
“If he changes and listens and learns, and everything, then he’ll get there in the fall,” Fulmer said in January. “I think if he gets through this process that he has in front of him, then he will have proven himself that he’s willing to get back to the team.”
Jennings had an arthroscopic knee procedure in the offseason, eliminating his opportunity to get back on the practice field in the spring.
Pruitt said some of the things Jennings was asked to do to return to the team required him being around the team.
McElroy shared more of what Pruitt told him about how the ordeal unfolded from that point on:
Jeremy Pruitt’s big demands
“Jeremy Pruitt said when he first got on campus he told Jauan, ‘If you want to be a part of this team you have to do this, this, this and this,’ and he gave him a checklist and required accountability, and he said he made the hurdles so high that he wasn’t sure he was going to be able to clear them,” McElroy said.
“[Pruitt] said, ‘We’ll challenge him, and if he’s able to do them, great, we’ll have him on our team, but the likelihood is he’s probably not going to be able to fulfill all the obligations we’re going to put in front of him,’” McElroy said.
“[Pruitt] said, ‘Not only has he done them, but he’s surpassed the expectations … ,’” McElroy said. “He said he has an edge to him, he’s every guy in the building’s favorite player because he loves the game, he’s passionate for the game.”
Jennings is among the most physical and dynamic receivers in the SEC, as evidenced by his game-changing plays in wins over Virginia Tech, Georgia and Florida in 2016.
Tennessee football Orange and White Game
- The truth about Tennessee QB situation, Keller Chyrst’s secret meetings with Vols’ staff
- Former Bama quarterback says ‘probably none’ of Tennessee’s active players could start for Bama
- Jeremy Pruitt’s scalding statement: Some Tennessee football players ‘flat-out quit’
- Tennessee football report card: Offense grades a level higher than defense
- Super sophomores emerged for Vols in Tennessee football Orange and White Game
- Vol Walk ‘spectacular,’ but Jeremy Pruitt calls out some fans and team
- RECAP: Tennessee first-team offense dominates spring scrimmage game
- Jeremy Pruitt upset at halftime of Orange and White Game, ‘nobody’s responding’
- WATCH: Jeremy Pruitt’s first-ever Vol Walk
- Tennessee football Orange and White Game breakdown
- WATCH: Jeremy Pruitt says ‘film don’t lie,’ harsh postgame