For Jeremy Pruitt and Tennessee, this has been the very definition of a rebuilding year. New systems on both sides of the ball, young guys playing in key spots and a first time head coach — everyone seems to be figuring it out as they go this season.
An unfortunate draw with the SEC schedule makers didn’t do Tennessee any favors either. Still, through all the challenges, Jeremy Pruitt sees progress.
“I see a lot of guys in our program that are improving,” Pruitt said on Wednesday after practice. “Their practice habits are better, and that’s the first way to improve as a player, is to become a better practice player. They’re starting to prepare better each week. So I’ve seen a lot of improvement and I think our team has improved every week in all phases.”
It’s hard to take anything away from the Florida game, considering all of the mistakes that were made, but that progress was on display against Georgia two weekends ago. The Vols were in the game in the fourth quarter, and frankly could have been within striking distance if the ball had bounced their way on any of the Bulldog’s four fumbles.
“I think we’re improving our tackling on defense,” Pruitt said. “We’re improving our pass rush. So we’ve just got to keep doing that, and that’s what everybody’s been focusing on for the last two weeks.”
We haven’t seen Tennessee since the Georgia game, but a bye week to get healthy and hit the reset button should have given this team a chance to get further in their development. Pruitt said on Monday that they went back to the basics, getting reps for guys that may have missed training camp. That could be a big deal for guys like JJ Peterson and Trey Smith.
Pruitt wasn’t totally pleased with his team’s development, of course. Once again, he pointed towards ball security as an issue. Jeremy Banks was the latest to put the Vols in a bad spot with a fumble late in Athens, and we all know how carelessly Tennessee handled the football against Florida.
“The one thing that we have not improved on is protecting the football,” Pruitt said. “We started off the year protecting the football, had one game where we had six turnovers, and had a couple of others along the way. We’ve got to improve on that. Worked really hard on it.”
Tennessee and Jeremy Pruitt will get a chance to showcase that potential improvement against another ranked team on Saturday. The Vols and the Auburn Tigers will kickoff at noon.