KNOXVILLE – The week that was for Tennessee football recalled a soundtrack from my sportswriting past.
Last Tuesday, in his first public comments following a closed scrimmage on Sunday, Vols head coach Jeremy Pruitt broke down the defensive line’s play with some unflattering analogies involving grade schoolers and driving with your eyes closed.
Two days later, in his first public comments of the preseason, defensive line coach Tracy Rocker sought largely to build up his players, saying that he liked their talent and potential, but wanted more consistency from them.
He emphasized the need to always be buttressing their confidence.
Hmm, where had I heard this before?
Took me a day to realize that these reviews recalled some of my experiences in covering coaching legend Pat Summitt’s women’s basketball teams at Tennessee.
I remember her telling me once at a dicey juncture of a particular season that she wasn’t always the best source of confidence for players. No matter the harshness, her critiques took priority.
Conversely, her assistant coaches always seemed to be reliable suppliers of the precious commodity. They took care to replenish confidence without undermining their boss or diminishing the program’s standards.
The process, from my vantage point, was delicate and not to be taken for granted. It required the coaches to be in sync with their communication and the players to appreciate their purpose.
I’ll continue to listen for this tune in this setting.
In the meantime, the Vols held another closed scrimmage on Saturday and Pruitt spoke afterward. He thought the team got in some good work but also noted, “when you get in the second or third week of camp, maturity starts showing up.”
Pruitt drew a correlation between the overall energy at the start of the scrimmage with former Vol Inky Johnson speaking to the team on Friday night.
“My question is: do we have to get Inky to talk to our team before we start every practice,” Pruitt said.
And he had this to say about the defensive line: “I believe that probably the biggest thing is inconsistency. Most all of these guys can do it the right way. Can we sustain? … I’m not worried about the ability part. I’m worried about the execution.”
Choosing Backup QB: Since starting quarterback Jarrett Guarantano was knocked out of four games last season, UT’s choice for backup quarterback carries greater weight.
Vols assistant Chris Weinke, who coaches the quarterbacks, said redshirt freshmen J.T. Shrout and true freshmen Brian Maurer have distinguishing qualities. Weinke went so far as to say, “I think they’re wired a little bit different.”
“J.T. is going to try to analyze things a little bit more,” Weinke said. “Brian Maurer is going to be a little more of a free spirit. That’s kind of what he’s accustomed to in background in terms of going out and playing some backyard football and making plays.”
Although Pruitt indicated that the quarterbacks need to cut down on interceptions, Weinke didn’t portray turnovers in general as a pressing problem.
“We’ve not had a ton of interceptions throughout the course of camp,” he said. “We have not had a ton of fumbles throughout the course of camp.
“And hopefully we continue to improve on that because the ultimate goal is to have zero.”
Settling In: Rocker indicated that the best pass rusher among his lineman is former tight end LaTrell Bumphus, who switched positions after last season.
“He enjoys practice; he enjoys getting better, so that’s a plus for me,” Rocker said. “He’s embraced it. I love having him in the room.”
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org