Dan Fleser: Vols Finish First Week Of Spring Practice Wondering About Defense

Friday, March 15, 2019 - by Dan Fleser

KNOXVILLE - After the first week of Tennessee’s spring football practice, the concept of improvement was relative in nature.

UT coach Jeremy Pruitt said Friday that he saw “lots of improvement” during the first five workouts. But after Monday’s one-sided practice plenty was necessary on defense.

“There was nowhere to go but up,” he said. “It’s been a little better, more competitive,

The Vols now will adjourn for spring break and return on March 26.

“It’s a good opportunity to self-assess and see where we’re at,” Pruitt said.

Here’s some observations so far:     

QB taking root: Jarrett Guarantano made two media appearances all of last season – after victories over Auburn and Kentucky.

So it was noteworthy that the redshirt junior quarterback was the first player to be interviewed this spring.

Even more significant was Pruitt’s comments about Guarantano after practice on Monday. The coach expressed a healthier amount of comfort regarding his quarterback.

“He’s played a lot of ball; he’s taken a lot of hits,” Pruitt said. “I think we all understand that really doesn’t bother him.

“I think he’s got a really good understanding for what we’re trying to do. He knows how to prepare. I think it’s been really positive. That’s how the quarterback position should be.”

Guarantano and the Vols will be best served by the quarterback putting his understanding to greater use rather than reinforcing his knack for survival.

What a guy: Jim Chaney is making quite an impression in his second stint with the Vols.

Depending on who’s talking, UT’s new offensive coordinator, who’s the former coordinator from the Lane Kiffin era, is an answer man, a character, funny, smart, loud etc.

Pruitt’s impression of Chaney takes priority over all others. To date, there’s a continuity in the head coach’s perspective.

Pruitt on Chaney during a Feb. 15 press conference: “Just being around him, I think he is a great evaluator. He has command in a room and he sees the big picture.”

Pruitt on Chaney last Monday: “Jim has done a nice job with the rest of the coaches on the staff to teach the guys and demand that they do it the right way and it’s showed up at each practice.”

Strong endorsement: The strongest words of the spring so far were uttered by a former Vol.

During an interview following his abbreviated participation in Thursday’s pro day, Jonathan Kongbo offered a strong endorsement of Pruitt.

“If he’s going to be here, they’re going to win,” the former linebacker/lineman said. “Last year maybe we didn’t have all the pieces together.

“Of all the coaches I’ve been around, that man is about football and he’s going to win here.”

Kongbo said everything changed when Pruitt arrived. He also noted that one of Pruitt’s strengths is a quality that never changes.

“He brings the same energy man,” Kongbo said. “I went out to practice (Wednesday) and he’s coaching hard. He don’t take a day off. You’ve got to match his energy because he’s coming with it.”

Not much of a day: Going forward, a litmus test of Pruitt’s transformative powers will be Tennessee’s pro day.

Thursday’s event bore no resemblance to those of the glory years, which attracted an A list of NFL coaches.

Anyone wandering through UT’s indoor facility on Thursday might have wondered what was going on. There should be no doubt about the nature and importance of that day.

* * *

Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri who covered University of Tennessee athletics for the Knoxville News Sentinel from 1988-2019. He can be reached at danfleser3@gmail.com 

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