After junior nickel Rashaan Gaulden declared for the NFL Draft, Tennessee’s number one need was pretty clear. The Vols saw four contributors walk out the door at cornerback and very little experience set to return.
That gaping need wasn’t exactly filled with immediate help on national signing day either. Tennessee missed on a few big targets, making things pretty interesting and shallow for 2018.
Baylen Buchanan, Shawn Shamburger, Marquill Osborne, Cheyenne Labruzza are some of the obvious options, but offensive players like Tyler Byrd, Carlin Fils-Aime and Alontae Taylor have each spent time working with the defensive backs during the spring too.
To most, that would seem to suggest that Tennessee is looking for answers at the position. But Tennessee’s first year head coach isn’t making excuses. He’s actually showing some confidence — at least in his cornerbacks’ raw ability.
“We got guys that got plenty of talent. Talent is not an issue,” Jeremy Pruitt proclaimed. “Learning how to play — that’s really a lot of positions — you gotta learn how to play. You’ve got to learn how to compete and be a smart football player. There’s more to playing football than just when the ball is snapped. There are a lot of things, especially on the defensive side, that happen before the ball is snapped. You can eliminate a lot of plays you’re going to get. The great ones know how to do that.”
When asked if he was going to be able to play his aggressive, press-man scheme in year one, Pruitt responded with a simple and confident answer.
“Yeah, I think so. I’m not going to change the way I coach. I’ve had too much success doing it that way. I’m going to coach the same way,” Pruitt said.
His track record speaks for itself. You can look at his time at Alabama, Georgia and Florida State and name countless defensive backs. However, I’m not sure he’s taken on quite a turnaround like this.
Most would argue that cornerback is one of the two weakest spots on the roster. Pruitt and Terry Fair are going to have to work some magic to get them up to speed and game-ready by September.