The vast majority of spring camp in Knoxville seems to revolve around evaluation for Jeremy Pruitt and his coaching staff. They need to know what they have from their players at each position as they work with them for the first time this spring.
A large portion of the evaluation process for the staff seems to be just finding the best position for some players, including the program’s early enrollees. Thankfully for the newest members of the Tennessee program that arrived to campus early this spring, they have the added benefit of an extra 15 practices to acclimate to Pruitt’s system.
That looks to be all the more valuable for players like Alontae Taylor, who have been asked to compete on both sides of the ball this spring in Knoxville.
During his most recent media availability, Pruitt was asked about Taylor’s progress after getting a few days in as a defensive back — Taylor started the spring as a receiver and has been noted as one of the program’s better skill players on offense by program insiders. Despite that, Tennessee is desperate for help at defensive back, especially after losing out on graduate transfer Terrance Alexander to LSU.
“I think Alontae can play a lot of positions. He was a high school quarterback. He returned kicks. He’s not going to play quarterback here, so every position (we put him at here) is new,” Pruitt said when asked about Taylor. “He is gonna to be learning all of them. I think he has a little more experience playing wide receiver because he played more of that in high school, but he also played defensive back.”
Switching sides of the ball halfway into spring camp would be a rough transition for any player, but the true freshman appears to be handling the role as well as expected, according to his coach.
“I think he has a lot of ability. It’s probably not fair to him because the kid met one day and we put him out there with the ones so we could see him guard the best guys. We did that to figure out if he can or can’t. He really don’t know what to do. That’s not his fault. He has really good ability,” Pruitt continued.
“I think we are going to do it one more day and let him scrimmage with the defense and kinda go from there. It’s one of these deals to build depth, down the road. He told me today that he thinks if he does it for a few more days he will have it down and if we need him in the fall I can come help.”
The Tennessee coach then explained that even if Taylor is switched back to offense for good, the reps the freshman is currently getting in on the defensive side of the ball could prove to be invaluable in the future.
“Over the years, there’s been some teams when they have injuries or it’s late in the game and you have a jump ball situation, you want the guy with the best ball skills,” he said. “If you want to throw the ball into the end zone, do you want a five-eight defensive back out there jumping, or do you want the guy that can go up and get the ball? It’s good for him to learn.
“I think he is probably the best wide receiver to learn how to play defensive back. We are going to decide after the scrimmage and decide whether he needs to move back or wait till the summer.”