After an 8-5 season in year two, Jeremy Pruitt is looking for more in year three. Somehow, Tennessee managed to recover from a 2-5 start in 2019 to bounceback to an eight win season. After that, expectations have begun to return to Knoxville.
Can Jeremy Pruitt’s staff take another step forward in 2020? That remains to be seen. But they do have a few things working for them. First off, most of the roster returns for another season. Six key seniors exited the program, but most of the core remains in tact for the 2020 season.
Perhaps more importantly, two key coaches return in two key spots. For the first time in a long time, Tennessee isn’t replacing an offensive coordinator during the offseason. They’re also not replacing a defensive coordinator. The system will remain the same this season on each side of the ball, giving this roster a chance to truly grow.
“The more times you do something, the easier it gets, the better you get at it, the better you get at presenting it, and the kids get to hear the same voice,” Jeremy Pruitt said during the Big Orange Connect on Thursday. “You could definitely see in the two practice days in the spring, you could tell that it was really kind of the third year in the system on defense and the second year on offense, so that was good to see, and we’ve got a lot of returning players that have experience.”
Jim Chaney enters his second season leading the Tennessee offense. It was an up and down season for the offense as a whole, as they dealt with inconsistencies at the quarterback position. Now without its top two receivers, the offense must evolve into something new.
What they do have going is the return of every starting offensive lineman from last season, along with the addition of Cade Mays from Georgia. Assuming Mays does become eligible this season, Tennessee should be ready to go to battle with just about anyone in the SEC.
That continuity — both on the coaching staff and on the roster — could pay off this fall.
“I really felt like last summer, we were really heading in that direction with the senior class that was here,” Pruitt said. “They really done a nice job teaching these guys how to practice, the expectations and the older guys helping the younger guys. It continued through the fall and you could see it this offseason, and you can jump on the Zoom meetings and it’s been going on for the last couple of weeks. Our guys really done a nice job.”
Derrick Ansley enters his second season as Tennessee’s defensive coordinator, but the system really hasn’t changed since Jeremy Pruitt’s arrival in 2018. That means it’s year three for several key players in the defense, like Emmit Gooden, Bryce Thompson, Trevon Flowers and Alontae Taylor. That leadership should take some pressure off of the coaching staff, allowing some upperclassmen to help groom younger players.
“One of the first things you have to be able to do is everybody has to speak the same football language,” Pruitt said. “If you don’t speak the same language, then you obviously have some issues there, but just learning the terminology, for the new guys that’s been good, and we’ve been allowed to let the incoming freshmen get on the calls for the last couple of weeks.”
Tennessee is set to welcome the 10th ranked class in the 2020 cycle, per 247Sports. With established leaders on both sides of the ball, along with a coaching staff that didn’t see much turnover at key spots, 2020 should be the smoothest year yet for Pruitt. We’ll see if that translates to the scoreboard this fall.