KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee football spring practice is in the books, and while it would have to be deemed a success from the standpoint of no major injuries being suffered, there’s work to do.
Volunteers coach Jeremy Pruitt is intent on changing the culture, and it was clear from Pruitt’s comments on Tuesday that the transformation is nowhere near complete.
“Coming back [Tuesday] we had some guys that looked like it was the 13th practice …. some guys who went out there and just tried to make a day, from flex to getting it started, and we had to jump start some of these guys,” Pruitt said.
“It’s like I told them, we’ll have a football team around here when it’s not me policing them, when they have paid the price, they are prepared, they are passionate about what they do and they’re not gonna let their peers bring them and the expectations down,” he said. “We have to improve on that, and hopefully we can do that as the summer goes.”
This, after more than a week earlier saying he was hoping the Vols could improve in that area by the end of spring drills.
“We have to get guys trying to get the other guys going instead of the coaching staff, because we won’t be out there during the game, so that’s part of learning how to play football and part of learning how to be a team,” Pruitt had said. “Hopefully in the next five days, we can have some guys step up and find a way to get everybody else going.’’
Not enough of them did.
Team culture is everything, and it has been quite a while since Tennessee football had a dominant leader who could inspire the team.
The ultimate example is former Tennessee linebacker Al Wilson, who now graces the JumboTron with Gen. Robert Neyland and the ultimate team player, former Vols’ tight end Jason Witten.
Junior safety Nigel Warrior — the son of Tennessee legend Dale Carter — has emerged as the closest thing to a star on the team. Warrior graces the cover of the spring football media guide and was selected to talk to media and do a Twitter promotion for the spring game.
Warrior is indeed a rising star, but programs such as Alabama, Georgia and Florida State seem to turn out six or seven players with that sort of talent and intensity annually.
Pruitt wants leadership on offense, too, and that’s one reason why Stanford graduate transfer quarterback Keller Chryst is expected to have an immediate impact upon his arrival in June.
Indeed, the Vols’ coach has dropped not-so-subtle hints throughout spring drills that he’s looking for quarterback play that elevates the talent around the position.
Josh Dobbs and Casey Clausen were the two most recent Tennessee quarterbacks with the ability to inspire teammates with the supreme confidence they could get it done.
The Orange and White Game will provide another opportunity for new leaders, as well as playmakers, to emerge.
Time is running out for many players, and it probably already has run out for some.
Pruitt isn’t going to waste any time with players who don’t bring the attitude and work ethic he wants, and he has made it clear talk is cheap.
“It’s easy to sit here and talk about,” Pruitt said, when informed one player said in an interview that he wished there were 20 more spring practices. “To me, it’s more about show me what you want instead of talking about what you want.”
The Orange and White Game kicks off at 2 p.m. ET on Saturday.
For some players, it could be a final appearance in a Tennessee uniform, but for most, it will be another step in the Vols’ new beginning.