KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Jeremy Pruitt looks into the Tennessee offensive backfield and he’s not overly impressed with anyone.
That’s one of the reasons Vols athletic director Phillip Fulmer hired Pruitt, saying “I wanted someone who knows what a championship team looks like.”
Tennessee, obviously, is a work in progress heading into the final week of spring drills leading up to the Orange and White Game on April 21.
Pruitt has been candid with his assessments, sometimes to comic proportions.
Pruitt said after a scrimmage last week that the rainy, 40-degree weather was the most positive thing about the day. He wasn’t smiling when he said it, nor did he give any indication he was joking.
But then, why would Pruitt be impressed with a group of players that didn’t win an SEC game last season?
Tennessee returns only one player who earned All-SEC honors in 2017. That player, FWAA Freshman All-America offensive lineman Trey Smith, isn’t practicing with the team due to a medical condition.
So when Pruitt was asked Thursday about arguably the most explosive player on the team, sophomore Ty Chandler, he essentially shrugged.
And no, he wasn’t joking.
Why would Pruitt be impressed by Chandler after the cast of tailbacks he has been around as a coach and a player?
One of Pruitt’s teammates at Alabama was future NFL MVP Shaun Alexander, a 5-foot-11, 215-pound running back who went on to rush for 100 touchdowns with the Seattle Seahawks.
The Tide backs Pruitt saw up close as a coach included:
Damien Harris, 5-11, 221
Bo Scarbrough, 6-2, 235
Najee Harris, 6-2, 227
Derrick Henry, 6-3, 235
Mark Ingram 5-10, 215
Trent Richardson, 5-11, 224
Eddie Lacy, 6-0, 220
T.J. Yeldon, 6-2, 221
Kenyan Drake, 6-1, 210
Todd Gurley, 6-1, 232
Nick Chubb, 5-10, 215
Sony Michel, 5-11, 212
And at Florida State:
Devonta Freeman, 5-9, 210
Karlos Williams, 6-1, 225
Now, for perspective, compare that to Tennessee’s backfield, and it explains why Pruitt moved Princeton Fant (6-3, 225) to tailback, recruited Jeremy Banks (6-1, 220) and is welcoming Michigan State graduate transfer Madre London (6-1, 218).
The returning Tennessee tailbacks with carries last season are Chandler, (5-11, 195) and Tim Jordan (5-11, 196).
“I know from the defensive side, those big backs, over the course of time they fall forward a bunch of times,” Pruitt said, “and they can handle a lot more licks.”
So for now, Fant is a running back after playing receiver in high school. He was recruited as a tight end and spent a few days at linebacker.
“We originally moved [Fant] to running back because of a lack of numbers,” Pruitt said. “Watching him in winter conditioning, he has some athletic ability about him, and I like the fact he weighs 225 pounds.”
So what about Chandler, and what has Pruitt seen from him this spring?
“All those guys, you kind of put them out there, and they all have good hands, they have pretty good vision, they have good enough speed, so I think it’s too early to single any of them out,” Pruitt said Thursday.
“You can take Ty, you can take Tim [Jordan], take Trey [Coleman], take Princeton, put them all in that one group and they have good days and they have bad days, so we have to find a little more consistency in all of them.”
Consistency is one thing and greatness is another. Right now, Pruitt doesn’t see it.
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