KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT.)-- The Tennessee football team’s offensive and defensive lines each received a game-week boost on Wednesday, with defensive tackle Aubrey Solomon and offensive lineman Trey Smith both being cleared to play in Saturday’s season opener.
Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt emphasized the importance of each of the players being available ahead of Saturday’s matchup with Georgia State at 3:30 p.m.
“In the last two days we really got some good news, starting with Aubrey (Solomon),” Pruitt said. “He’s a guy that’s worked really hard since he’s been here. I’m glad to see that he gets rewarded and gets a chance to compete and play.
“Trey Smith is going to be able to play some snaps on Saturday. That’s a great thing for Trey. This is something that Trey and his family decided to do, and along with our doctors here at the university and people across the country, [we] have come up with a plan for him to be able to play the game that he loves.”
A two-year starter at various positions along the offensive line, Smith has played 19 games since arriving in Knoxville – all of them as a starter. He was named All-SEC Second Team and SEC All-Freshman in 2017, starting games at left tackle, left guard and right guard. As a freshman in 2017, Smith captured FWAA Freshman All-America honors and in 2018 collected Preseason All-SEC First Team accolades.
Solomon, a former five-star recruit, appeared in 18 games at Michigan, totaling 24 tackles and two TFLs. He had 18 tackles and two TFLs while appearing in all 13 games as a true freshman in 2017 before being limited by injury in 2018.
“Everybody’s excited, fired up, ready to play,” Pruitt said. “You know you don’t get many opportunities, right? Everything we do, starting from when we were little kids playing in the back yard, playing Pop Warner, junior high ball, in the weight room, all the way, there are very few moments that you get to play in a game or coach in a game.
“So, you take advantage of it. And everybody in our program is excited about this game.”
Bituli Out For Opener
Pruitt announced Wednesday that senior linebacker Daniel Bituli is out for Saturday’s season opener.
Tennessee’s linebacker group boasts a wealth of experience and depth, with five scholarship upperclassmen.
“All of our linebackers could be our signal callers,” Pruitt said. We’ve got guys like Shanon Reid and Will Ignont that have been in the system for two years now.
“Jeremy Banks, he’s probably not ready to call signals, but he is a guy from last year when we moved him over from the fall really picked it up really fast. We got some guys in there that can operate.”
Preseason freshman All-American Henry To’o To’o could be the first true freshman to start at linebacker in the season opener since A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt in 2011.
Redshirt freshman J.J. Peterson and redshirt sophomore Solon Page join Reid, To’o To’o and Ignont round out the unit.
Head Coach Jeremy Pruitt Press Conference | Aug. 28, 2019
“In the last two days we really got some good news, starting with Aubrey (Solomon). It’s a guy that’s worked really hard since he’s been here. I’m glad to see that he gets rewarded and gets a chance to compete and play.
“Trey Smith is going to be able to play some snaps on Saturday. That’s a great thing for Trey. This is something that Trey and his family decided to do, and along with our doctors here at the university and people across the country, [we] have come up with a plan for him to be able to play the game that he loves.
“We had really good work this week. Offensively, I still see the maturity of our team, starting at the quarterback position and the wide receivers. [We’re] still moving some guys around up front. We look to play a lot of folks. On the defensive side, still a lot of youth. [We’ve] got some guys that won’t be able to play this weekend, but that’s okay, it’s opportunities for other folks.”
On the plan for Trey Smith:
“It’s a plan that our doctors came up with and as far as playing in the game, Trey is like any other guy on our team. He’ll definitely play some, how much, I don’t know. He’s practiced a few times this camp. He’s worked really hard since this all began. [He’s] probably in the best shape of his life. I think he weighs about 320 pounds. When we got here he weighed 365, so he’s worked really hard and I’m proud that he’s getting an opportunity to do what he loves to do.”
On the status of Bryce Thompson’s situation:
“I’ve said this – this will be the third time that I’ve said it – I can’t comment about that situation. He’s suspended from our team right now. There will be a point in time I’m sure they’ll be a lot of things that will come out, but right now we can’t comment.”
On Trey Smith playing guard as opposed to left tackle this year:
“Well, he’s probably more of a guard. He’s a guy that can probably play all five positions, but I think he’s more comfortable playing inside, so that’s where we want to give him a chance to be at his best.”
On impact of Aubrey Solomon getting to play and what he expects:
“We’ve practiced all camp by giving the same amount of reps to everyone. We’re going to play a lot of guys on the defensive front. Aubrey is a guy that can play anywhere up and down the line of scrimmage, so it definitely gives us a little more depth there.”
On when Trey was cleared to play and whether or not his snaps are being managed:
“We definitely have a plan in place with our medical staff. We’re keeping it in house, because I don’t think it’s really smart to let our opponents know how many snaps Trey is or isn’t going to play.”
On how conversation with Trey went when he found out he was cleared to play this weekend:
“I’m sure Trey has wanted to play the entire time. There hasn’t been any secrets about that, which is why him and his family have thoroughly investigated this, along with our medical staff to give him the best opportunity to have success, not only right now, but for the rest of his life.”
On if lack of contact in practice will affect Trey’s play on the field:
“When you play football it truly is a developmental game, especially at his position. Trey is a really talented guy, but there’s no doubt that the more practices you get, the better that you’ll perform. He’s really worked hard at the skill sets, just not with everyone else, so we’ll see how he does.”
On whether or not Trey will need to be cleared each week:
“We’re not going to get into the plan. That’s Trey and his family’s business, along with the medical staff.”
On Daniel Bituli’s status for Saturday:
“He’s not going to be able to play this week.”
On if freshman LB Henry To’o To’o is able to call signals:
“Yes, all of our linebackers could be our signal callers. We’ve got guys like Shanon Reid and Will Ignont that have been in the system for two years now. J.J. Peterson, he’s more like a freshman because he missed all summer and fall camp last year. Jeremy Banks, he’s probably not ready to call signals, but he is a guy from last year when we moved him over from the fall really picked it up really fast. We got some guys in there that can operate.”
On which coaches will be in the press box and on the field:
“You know, I don’t really think that’s relevant with our game plan and anything else. I think that we would like to keep that in-house.”
On Jeremy Banks being up to speed to play linebacker:
“Yes, he can.”
On tackling in the first game:
“We call it ABCs. We work every day on footwork, block protection and tackling. Every single day. It is interesting, years ago my coach told me that if you couldn’t tackle, we wouldn’t recruit you. But back then, every drill was a tackle drill. It’s not that way anymore. When you watch, like I mentioned it today, bowl games there goes a period of time from when teams have played. It seems like there’s a lot more missed tackles and more points in bowl games. Usually starting the year, you get a couple of scrimmages there. Every day when you thud, if you get your body in the right position and the right body angles and attack the ball the right way, you get plenty of opportunities. I’m sure when you look around college football as the season goes, guys become better at what they are trying to do.”
On how coaching tackling has changed:
“We’ve not changed the way we’ve practiced the last 10 years that I’ve been in college football and even when I was a high school coach. We practice the same now as we did back then. We never took guys to the ground unless we were going to scrimmage. All that’s the same. There’s not as many practices – that’s probably where there’s a difference. When I was in school, 25 years ago, we had three-a-days for two weeks. Now we don’t even have two-a-days. So, now, it’s just really cutting down on the amount of the days that you’re actually really out there.”
On if the team has had to overcome adversity this week:
“This week there hasn’t been any adversity for us. We’re getting ready to play Georgia State. Everybody’s excited, fired up, ready to play. You know you don’t get many opportunities, right? Everything we do, starting from when we were little bitty kids, you know playing in the back yard, playing Pop Warner, junior high ball, in the weight room, all the way, there are very few moments that you get to play in a game, coach in a game, so you take advantage of it. And, everybody in our program is excited about this game.”