KNOXVILLE — Jeremy Pruitt continues to place his stamp on the Tennessee program as the early stages of spring practices are taking place.

And for Pruitt, he is starting to like his team.

“I’m starting to like this team, being around these guys because I sense a lot of guys who are hungry and maybe have a chip on their shoulder,” Pruitt said. “Not all of them (players), but maybe enough of them have it and maybe we can make it where it’s contagious.”

It is an important spring for the UT quarterbacks under new offensive coordinator Tyson Helton. Redshirt sophomore Jarrett Guarantano and sophomore Will McBride, who both started down the stretch last season, are going through the install of the new offense. Their head start with spring practices under Helton is beneficial as Stanford graduate transfer quarterback Keller Chryst will arrive at UT this summer.

Pruitt is already liking Helton’s approach coordinating the offense and working with the quarterbacks.

“Tyson is very detailed,” Pruitt said. “He’s very demanding. I’ve sat in a lot of his meetings here with the players and he does a fantastic job. He’s very thorough. He goes through everything from getting the call signals pre-snap to indicators to protections. He really does a nice job. He doesn’t coach with his hands in his pocket, I can assure you. He’s out there getting after them.”

In the SEC, successful teams have to be effective up front, on the offensive line. Pruitt understands that his line will be key in the quarterback’s success.

“I can say this, when we protect the quarterbacks, our quarterbacks have created some explosive plays,” he said. “The key of the drill is we have to protect the quarterbacks.”

Pruitt feels that his line is learning philosophies and that it goes hand-in-hand in what he is teaching the defense at the same time.

“Normally for an offensive line, it takes five of them to play together,” he said. “The defense should be ahead of the offense. It doesn’t matter if it’s at Tennessee or wherever you’re playing, defense should be ahead of offense at this time. It takes 11 guys to do it together.

“Sometimes I think maybe if there’s a break down there in the offensive line, it makes the rest of them look a little worse than what it is. At the same time on the defensive side, the way we want to play, we’re a team that wants to square you up and strike you and build a wall trying to play defense from the inside out. I think it’s a little different than the philosophy in the past. Our guys are learning it. Both sides are doing a good job with trying to do what we ask them to do.”

Philosophies, schemes and adjustments aside, Pruitt knows an effective offense still comes down to the quarterback taking care of the ball.

“I’ll tell you one thing Jarrett (Guarantano) has done, is he’s thrown the ball away,” he said. “To me, everybody always talks about touchdowns and big plays, explosive plays and the quarterback running with the ball – he has the ability to do all that, but to me, the first thing a quarterback has to be able to do is take care of the ball.

“I think he and Will (McBride) have done a good job so far trying to do that. They’ve not forced the ball. We’ve had some protection breakdowns just because it’s a new system and it’s everybody getting tied together. When it broke down, they didn’t try to do more than what they could do. They got the ball out of their hand and said we’ll play the next play. I think they’re going in the right direction.”

The success of Guarantano and McBride this spring will depend on protecting them and Pruitt understands “that’s the hardest thing to do – protect the quarterback.”

“You’ve got to get everybody tied in together. One thing about it is, if you have one breakdown on the front, you might have the back or the tight end involved in protection and five out of six do exactly like you coach them to do but the wrong one has a breakdown, then you don’t even have a chance to give the quarterback a chance. When our guys have done a good job up front, our quarterbacks have done a nice job. They know where they’re supposed to go with the ball and they’re throwing it in the right location which is important. It’s where only we can catch it.”