KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT)-- The Tennessee football team held its first spring practice of 2019 on Thursday afternoon at Haslam Field, officially beginning the second spring season of the Jeremy Pruitt era.
The Vols will practice a total of 15 times and will wrap up the spring session with the Chevrolet Orange and White game on Saturday, April 13 at 6 p.m. inside Neyland Stadium.
Tennessee welcomed 12 scholarship newcomers for the spring semester, which includes 10 freshmen and two transfer early enrollees (Full list at the bottom of the page).
On Thursday, Pruitt stressed the strides the team has made on both sides of the ball.
“There’s definitely a lot of carryover defensively from last fall,” Pruitt said. “We have lots of guys that are back, so you could obviously see a comfort zone there. I thought our offense did a great job today. It’s probably the first time all year that we finished practice early. The offense sets the tempo for the practice, so I thought that was really positive.”
Moving forward for the remainder of the spring session, Pruitt emphasized the importance of his football support staff to get the team where it needs to be heading into the summer session.
“I think with the offseason, it takes everybody in our program,” Pruitt said. “I think it starts with our weight room staff, with Coach (Craig) Fitzgerald and all his guys. They’ve done a really nice job training. Our nutrition staff has done a really good job – (Director of Nutrition for Football) Rachel (Pfister) and everybody associated with her. The people in Smokey’s, where our guys eat everyday. I think the guys have done a nice job of getting some rest, which is important.”
Pruitt also praised several players who have gained weight, maximizing the strength and conditioning resources and nutrition team at UT.
“With Nathan Nieuhas, I think he’s gained 40 pounds in a year,” Pruitt said. “Riley Locklear has probably gained 25 or 30 pounds. (Marcus) Tatum has probably gained 25 or 30 pounds. I think it will help them.”
Chaney back on Rocky Top
Jim Chaney returned to Tennessee as offensive coordinator following a successful run at Georgia from 2016-18 where he led an offense that ranked No. 3 in the SEC in total yards per game (478.77), second in points (39.15) and first in rushing yards (251.62) in 2018. Pruitt has been impressed in a short period of time from what he’s seen from Chaney at UT.
“With Jim coming in here, I think he has done a really nice job with our staff,” Pruitt said. “He’s very efficient with his time. He is a very good teacher. I’ve sat in lots of meetings. The offense is simple to understand.”
Pruitt was most impressed with the multiple ways Chaney has had success in college football, through throwing and running the ball. He also stressed Chaney’s ability to evaluate and maximize talent on the field.
“He’s done it lots of different ways, which I think is important” Pruitt said. “He’s thrown it lots of different times in games. He has done it with balance. He figures out who his best players are and finds a way to get them the ball. I think he’s a very good evaluator, and coaching against him, he is very hard to defend.”
Brandon Kennedy started the 2018 season opener at center before suffering a knee injury in practice that ended his season. Kennedy, a graduate transfer from Alabama, was back at practice in a limited role on Thursday. However, Pruitt said Kennedy would be able to play if the Vols needed him for a game right now.
“There’s no need to rush him back,” Pruitt said. “He is going to do some things this spring, and it will be day-by-day. If we were playing in a game right now, he could play.”
Different Spring for Alontae Taylor
A year ago, rising sophomore cornerback Alontae Taylor was an early enrollee hoping to become a star wide receiver for the Vols following a standout prep career in Manchester, Tenn. In Taylor’s second spring, he is firmly entrenched at cornerback after starting nine games there as a true freshman last fall.
Taylor moved to cornerback midway through spring practice last year, but wasn’t solidified on defense until fall camp.
“He’s put a lot of time into it with Coach (Derrick) Ansley,” Pruitt said. “I see those guys watching tape a lot. I think there will be improvement just being comfortable with the position now. He, along with the rest of the guys, should improve. They all have a year under their belt.”
Taylor, who started the 2018 season-opener, finished with 40 tackles, two forced fumbles and a blocked kick in his first year.
Pruitt announced that rising redshirt senior linebacker Darrin Kirkland (knee) would be out for the spring. Rising freshmen Eric Gray, Tyus Fields and Chris Akporghene were also out on Thursday. Pruitt said rising redshirt freshman defensive lineman Kurott Garland would return to practice soon.
Early Enrollees for the Vols:
No. 77 Chris Akporoghene, OL, 6-3, 301. (Seymour, Tenn.)
No. 14 Warren Burrell, DB, 6-0, 178. (Suwanee, Ga. / North Gwinnett)
No. 27 Quavaris Crouch, LB, 6-1, 242. (Charlotte, N.C./ Harding University)
No. 17 Tyus Fields, DB, 5-10, 185. (Cornelius, N.C./ Hough)
No. 3 Eric Gray, RB, 5-10, 195. (Memphis, Tenn./ Lausanne Collegiate School)
No. 80 Ramel Keyton, WR, 6-2, 185. (Marietta, Ga. Marietta)
No. 82 Jackson Lowe, TE, 6-4, 253. (Cartersville, Ga./ Cartersville)
No. 18 Brian Maurer, QB, 6-3, 192. (Ocala, Fla./ West Port)
No. 22 Jaylen McCollough, DB, 6-0, 200. Powder Springs, Ga/ Hillgrove)
No. 64 Wanya Morris, OL, 6-4, 309. (Loganville, Ga./ Grayson)
#98 Aubrey Solomon, DL, JR., 6-5, 306. (Lee County, Leesburg, Ga.)
#6 Deangelo Gibbs, WR, JR., 6-1, 209. (Oxford, Ga./ Grayson)