Tennessee football — and the rest of the entire sports world — is on hold right now as we continue to wait out the coronavirus outbreak. Conferences and the NCAA stepped in during early March, canceling the remainder of conference basketball tournaments and hitting the pause button on spring football practices and face to face recruiting.
It’s presented football coaches with new challenges as they prepare for an uncertain fall. Jeremy Pruitt is heading into his third season in Knoxville, looking to get his program to the next level after riding out a six game win streak to end 2019. Now he’s faced with the distinct possibility of losing every practice from the spring period, and is now waiting to see what the NCAA will even allow them to do this summer, if anything.
“If you look over the history of college athletics and probably professional sports, it’s changed and everybody has adapted to the rules as they’ve changed over the years,” Pruitt said on WMNL this week. “So I’m sure whatever rules are put in place, everybody will adhere to them.”
The NCAA will have to figure out if replacing the spring period will even be possible this summer, which all hinges on the status of the COVID-19 outbreak. Nick Saban and others have suggested non-padded sessions during the late summer that would allow coaches to install plays ahead of fall camp.
Teams have assigned conditioning and workout programs to their players during the shutdown in an attempt to keep everyone in shape, but nothing can exactly replace organized team activities.
“The first thing would be to protect the players because each player will be different when you start back,” Pruitt said. “There are probably guys that have some access to do a lot of things when it comes to training right now and there’s probably some that don’t. I just think that whenever that time does come, you have to have a really good understanding of each individual player and where they’re conditioning is at. What they can and can’t do.”
Coaches haven’t been left totally in the dark with their players, however. The SEC is allowing them four hours of instruction per week via video conference, which is a valuable tool without being able to go to work every day.
“Right now we’re allowed to spend four hours a week doing meetings,” Pruitt said. “With the technology that is out there today, it’s going really well.”
Assuming we do get to fall camp, it should be fascinating. We’re talking about a situation where programs haven’t been able to monitor their players for potentially the majority of the summer. Who put in the work on their own, who responded to the virtual coaching — it’s an entirely different set of circumstances to deal with.
Luckily for Tennessee, they’re returning a veteran squad that will be entering year three under Jeremy Pruitt. That might just end up being a big deal when the lights come on later this year.