Pruitt addresses Thompson situation

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- After practice Wednesday coach Jeremy Pruitt answered questions regarding the reinstatement of Sophomore defensive back Bryce Thompson to practice.

Jeremy Pruitt addressed the media Thursday to talk about what he expects out of his Vols as they are set to begin the first of twenty eight fall practices.

Asked about the plan Thompson will follow on his way back to the team and when he might play in a game Pruitt responded, "You know he's been away from the team for three weeks. He's been in school here and there are lots of things that gotta go on with his situation, but he obviously made a mistake. He needs to be around the football team. He's not practiced in three weeks so he needs to practice so it's good for him. When you talk about something like this you just don't make a decision out on your own. You have to consult with people in our University and obviously we have."

As for the team's preparation for Chattanooga, head coach Jeremy Pruitt saw a lot of juice at practice on Wednesday afternoon at Haslam Field.

The Mocs will travel to Neyland Stadium for a Noon ET kick (SEC Network) on Saturday and Pruitt is hoping his team continues to improve this week following three solid practices.

"Guys continue to work hard and improve," Pruitt said. "(There was) a lot of juice out there today which is good to see. You see our leadership, see guys responding to adversity which is exactly what I expected with these guys. Just looking at them, I've said all along that I really like this group of guys. I like our team. They have really molded together to become a pretty close group, and that's a good thing because right now that's what they need to do and we're working hard."

The Vols have started the 2019 season with a pair of losses, but there have been several bright spots and noticeable improvements from Week 1 to Week 2.

The challenge is to keep improving moving forward.

"Every week we have the same expectations and that is to be at our best," Pruitt said. "The previous game will have no outcome on the next game. We have 60 minutes on Saturday to be at our best. That is one thing that we need to do because we have yet to do that."

Pruitt and the coaching staff have relied on several freshmen and newcomers throughout the early part of the season. A pair of bright spots on the defense have been true freshmen Warren Burrell, at cornerback, and Henry To'o To'o, at linebacker. The first-year pair has started both games this season.

To'o To'o is tied for the team lead in tackles, while Burrell's production doesn't show up in the box score as much. However, Pruitt called the Suwannee, Ga., freshman one of Tennessee's top defenders through the first two games.

"I think Warren has been one of our better players on defense," Pruitt said. "He's tackled well, he's been in the right spots, he's cut off some guys in the back end. He's an instinctive guy that needs to develop play strength."

Another freshman making an impact is running back Eric Gray. The Memphis, Tenn., native has rushed for 106 yards on 24 carries through his first two career games, while showing he can be a threat as a receiver. He ranks second on the team with eight receptions for 56 yards. And he's also outstanding in the classroom.

"I think Eric Gray has done a really nice job since he has been here. He is very mature," Pruitt said. "He made all A's and one B in the spring semester. He is a really good student. He does everything that we ask him to do. He has very good leadership skills. What you see on Saturdays is what we see on Monday through Friday from him. That isn't a surprise. The guy comes to work every single day."

The Vols have played 10 true freshmen so far this season and Pruitt is pleased with the class as building blocks for the future.

"There are a lot of guys in our freshman class that are similar to Eric and work hard like that," Pruitt said. "He is at a position where it is only him and Ty, where they are the only two scholarship running backs. He is getting plenty of opportunities."

Fils-aime, Jordan Adding Depth to Running Back Room
Last week junior Ty Chandler and Gray were the only two scholarship running backs to play against BYU. Pruitt expects senior Carlin Fils-aime back soon and junior Tim Jordan back for UTC.

Pruitt said Fils-aime is "probably one week away" after practicing on scout team last week, but he expects Jordan to be ready to go after practicing each day this week.

Fils-aime has rushed for 309 yards and five touchdowns in his career, while Jordan has logged 580 rushing yards and three scores, including a standout 118-yard game in the 2018 season opener.

Coach Pruitt briefly addressed the Thompson situation on the weekly Vol Calls program Wednesday night. Several fans also wanted to talk about the quarterback position. Coach Pruitt defended his starting QB Jarrett Guarantano and said when it comes to blame, there's plenty to go around, "Everybody in our program has contributed to us not winning a football game , me the most, so everybody's got to raise their level of play. I think one of the first ways to fix it is you've got to acknowledge it, you've got to realize where you make mistakes that way you can fix them. If you sit there and deny them it's hard to fix it and I don't think anyone in our program's denying it."