Competition Heats Up as SEC Opener at Florida Nears

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- As Tennessee gets ready for its first road game of the season and opens its SEC slate, head coach Jeremy Pruitt expects his Vols to play fearlessly when things kick off against No. 9/8 Florida at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday at noon.

Despite UT's recent struggles in the series, the Vols' already high measure of intensity continues to be underscored by in-practice competition.

"The past has no bearing on the future, we have 60 minutes to write this chapter," Pruitt said. "We start practice, usually every day, with some kind of competition drill. Whether it is one-on-ones or Vol drill or something. We keep score during periods to create winners and losers and try to create some competition."

The Vols squad also got a bit of help from the weather to help simulate the team's first time in The Swamp in the Pruitt era with the temperature projected to be in the upper 80s.

"I made a statement earlier in the year that it didn't get hot in Knoxville, but it's gotten hot the last two days," said Pruitt. "That was good for us, getting ready for this weekend. Our players have lots of energy out there, which is good to see. I know they're excited about playing."

Pruitt expects that excitement and the preparation to translate into a very competitive game with the Gators, who came out with two tightly-contested wins to open the season.

"You are built for it. It gets you ready for it when it gets into one of those games. I think that has a lot to do with it. If you have a really competitive team, then you have a deep team. When it gets tight, that is when you want the best out of each person."

Fils-aime Expected to Return
The Vols could get a boost on the ground with the expected return of senior running back Carlin Fils-aime, who's been getting reps over the past few weeks.

"He started practicing kind of full-go a couple of weeks ago," Pruitt said. "As a running back, you want a guy to take some licks. You don't want a guy out there that hasn't had any contact with the football in his hands.

"Last year, he was a pretty good special teams' player for us. We moved him back to offense towards the end of the year. He is a guy that has some really good one-step quickness. He can get vertical and hit seams. He is back out there and he should be able to play this week."

In 2018, Fils-aime switched from corner to the running back group full time prior to the South Carolina game. The Naples, Florida native has amassed 309 rushing yards, five touchdowns and 5.9 yards-per-carry so far in his career.

O-Line Tandem Calbert and Wright Growing Into Roles
The offensive line has played around with different personnel through the first three weeks of the season, which has given redshirt sophomore K'Rojhn Calbert and freshman Darnell Wright a chance to gel on the right side of the line.

"It gives us a chance to put those two guys side by side which we think gives us the best chance to have success offensively," Pruitt said. "Darnell has only played guard for three practices and this week will make it five, while K'Rojhn, likewise, has moved to right tackle. When they get it right, they do a pretty good job at it.

"Neither guy has a lot of experience. I think both guys are extremely talented. If they know what they are doing, then they have a chance to have success.

Head Coach Jeremy Pruitt Transcript

Opening Statement:
“I made a statement earlier in the year that it didn’t get hot in Knoxville, but it’s gotten hot the last two days. That was good for us, getting ready for this weekend. Our players have lots of energy out there, which is good to see. I know they’re excited about playing. I’ve talked about Florida a lot with how good of a football team that they have, how much respect we have for coach Mullen and his program and what they’ve done. The thing that impresses me most about these guys is they’ve been in two really close games, probably had just as good of a chance to lose the games as they did to win them, but they found a way to win the games and that’s the mark of a team that has character, toughness and knows how to finish. We’re focused on the things that we can control, which is us, and I feel like our coaches have a really good game plan. Our guys have worked hard so far this week, we have to finish up the week and get ready for this weekend.”

On Jarrett Guarantano’s performance in practice versus in games:
“There’s no doubt that in the first three games, Jarrett didn’t play as good as he’s capable of playing. I’ve seen him at his best and when he’s on he’s pretty good. There have been times in his career that maybe based on some things around him, he maybe didn’t have as good of an opportunity to be at his best all the time, whether it be protection or whatever. Maybe just the scoreboard in itself. But I do feel like that our offensive line is much improved at giving him a pretty nice pocket this year and giving him an opportunity. We have good skill players around him and he’s like everyone else. He’s working hard to be at his best for every Saturday and he’ll continue to do that.”

On Bryce Thompson’s conditioning:
“He’s been participating. It’s one of the things you can see. Guys that don’t participate in fall camp, whether it be injury and they have to play early in the season, they don’t play as well. Trevon Flowers missed a couple of tackles in the first game. He’s a guy that I’ve felt like all along could be one of the better players on our football team. He was injured in fall camp and missed a lot of practice time, but I see a guy coming back that’s forming better. Same thing with Bryce, he’s missed a lot of time here in the last few weeks. He has to kind of earn his way back out there.”

On the chemistry of K’Rojhn Calbert and Darnell Wright on the offensive line:
“Neither guy has a lot of experience. I think both guys are extremely talented. If they know what they are doing, then they have a chance to have success. That is not a knock on their ability to learn. Darnell has only played guard for three practices and this week will make it five. K’Rojhn, likewise, has moved to right tackle. It gives us a chance to put those two guys side by side which we think gives us the best chance to have success offensively. When they get it right, they do a pretty good job at it.”

On senior running back Carlin Fils-aime:
“He started practicing kind of full go a couple of weeks ago. As a running back, you want a guy to take some licks. You don’t want a guy out there that hasn’t had any contact with the football in his hands. Last year, he was a pretty good special teams player for us. We moved him back to offense towards the end of the year. He is a guy that has some really good one-step quickness. He can get vertical and hit seams. He is back out there and he should be able to play this week.”

On teaching his team to find ways to win:
“It starts with having really competitive practices and having winners and losers. If you win, you get something for it and if you lose, there is a loss of pride there. I think it is good in every drill. It is good when you can keep score. When you play in games, there is adversity that presents itself. There is a lot of pressure. The more times you are in positions like that, some of it being with the groups you practice with each day or in offense and defense or within your position group, there is constant pressure. You are built for it. It gets you ready for it when it gets into one of those games. I think that has a lot to do with it. If you have a really competitive team, then you have a deep team. When it gets tight, that is when you want the best out of each person.”

On if he preps freshmen playing in a SEC road game:
“No, I mean it’s the same game that they have played growing up. Obviously, the other crowd will be screaming for the other team. You’re traveling, the travel part of it is a little different for them. But, its different now than it was 25 years ago. You have high school teams that are traveling all across the country to play in these televised games, so it is probably much easier. I remember the first time I got on a plane and I hadn’t been on a plane before I went to college. First flight was to Hawaii, so that was a culture shock for me. I don’t think it’s as much now in this day and time for these guys.”

On Josh Palmer, Bryce Thompson and Jeremy Banks:
“You know with Josh Palmer, he is a guy that created some really big plays for us last year. Probably at that point in time last year he probably had the freshest legs. If you remember, Jauan was coming off of injury. He’s a guy that we have to use. I think he has really good talent, we have to find a way to get him the ball. The other guys are going to travel.”

On the competition he creates in practice:
“We start practice, usually every day, with some kind of competition drill. Whether it is one-on-ones or Vol drill or something, we do something to start off practice. We do turnover circuit and keep score. We keep score during periods to create winners and losers and try to create some competition.”

On the development of freshmen linebackers Roman Harrison and Quavaris Crouch:
“These are two young men that are really smart. Both of them work hard out there at practice, got really good motors. They potential to be really good players. Roman played nose guard in high school, so now he’s playing on the edge. He’s never dropped in coverage. Most of the time he rushed from the interior. He never rushed on the edge, so there’s lots of multiples that he’s learning. Q was really a high school running back. He didn’t play much defense in high school Both of these guys – you really have to start from ground zero with both of them and they’re both doing a really nice job. For guys that really have played the position only through fall camp until now, they going to make mistakes, but one thing that I like about them is that they are going full speed and have good motors all of the time. They’re going to continue to improve and get better. They’ve got really good toughness about them and they like to compete, which is important.”

On if he thinks that having a lot of young players can actually be beneficial on the road:
“The past has no bearing on what’s going to happen in the future. We got 60 minutes on Saturday to kind of write the chapter of that book there and it’ll be the people that are on the plane and on the bus and on the field that will have an effect on the outcome of the game. Nothing in the past will dictate the game (on Saturday).”

On what the impact having Bryce Thompson could mean for the defense:
“Well, I don’t know what the impact would be. I mean the guy has not done much in several weeks, so we’re going to play these other guys and one of these days, Bryce will be back in shape and be ready to play. But it’s going to take a little time for that to happen.