Tennessee football: 10 things to watch during spring camp
Jeremy Pruitt will have much higher expectations in his second spring camp as a head coach. His players need to live up to those expectations.
Pruitt never publicly admitted to as much, but he had to be shocked to see just limited Tennessee’s roster was during spring practice last year. Now, Pruitt has had a year to assert his business-like demeanor, implement a more demanding strength and conditioning program and had a full year to bring in a highly rated signing class.
The Vols opened camp last week. Here are 10 things to watch during spring practice as they build toward the Orange and White game on April 13:
1. How will the offense change?
Tyson Helton was never a good fit as Pruitt’s offensive coordinator. Pruitt wants his defense to win games, which means his offense needs to control the clock and not make mistakes. That wasn’t Helton’s style. Had Helton not taken the Western Kentucky head coaching job, he probably would have been replaced anyway. Now, the Vols will place their offense in the hands of former Georgia offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, who coached at UT from 2009-2012.
2. How will the coaching staff bond with UT’s players and each other?
This will be tough to determine on the practice field, but there will be plenty of scuttlebutt and maybe even some reports as to how Pruitt’s renovated staff is working together. The Vols have five new assistant coaches. While some, like Chaney, should be an improvement, chemistry is key. The Vols didn’t have that chemistry last season among its staff members. If the Vols don’t have that on the coaching staff this year, they won’t have any chemistry as a team.
3. How will quarterback Jarrett Guarantano handle his third offense in three years?
Even though most believe Chaney is an upgrade over Helton, it will still be an adjustment for Guarantano. There’s reason to think Guarantano could flourish under Chaney, who has had success with various styles of quarterback. Guarantano could be compared to former UT quarterback Jonathan Crompton, who played well during the latter part of his senior season under Chaney.
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4. Will Brian Mauer push J.T. Shrout for the backup quarterback position?
One would think that Shrout, who redshirted last season, would be the odds-on favorite to be Guarantano’s backup. However, there have been plenty of positive reviews about Mauer despite being just a 3-star prospect. It will be interesting to see how Pruitt divvies up second-string practice snaps, especially toward the end of spring practice.
5. How many first-team snaps will Wanya Morris receive?
Morris, a 5-star early enrollee, isn’t expected to ease into a starting role. He’s expected to be a first-year starter given his ability and the need for more dominant offensive lineman. It would be disappointing if Morris isn’t a starter at one tackle position this fall.
6. Will Quavaris Crouch live up to his jersey number?
Crouch, a 4-star signee, has been publicly compared to former UT linebacker Al Wilson. That’s steep praise. Crouch, who was UT’s fourth-highest rated signee in this class, even received Wilson’s No. 27 jersey. If Crouch is half of the player/leader Wilson was, the Vols have found a gem.
7. Will Eric Gray flash?
Gray, a 4-star running back commitment, probably won’t be totally comfortable running pass patterns nor protecting the passer. That should come with time. However, it’s reasonable to think that Gray will be able to produce some electric runs even though he’s only been on campus since January.
8. What will happen to Tyler Byrd?
Byrd was a 4-star prospect when he signed with UT. As he enters his senior season, he’s on the verge of being a bust. Byrd has played receiver, safety and cornerback with little production to speak of. If he’s not happy with how he produces during spring practice, he could head elsewhere. It’s a storyline to follow.
9. Will the Vols be tougher?
Let’s face it: UT’s football program got soft under Butch Jones. The Vols have now had more than a calendar year under Pruitt, who is anything but soft. The Vols should be a tougher football team which means closing each practice strong and not allowing themselves to wane toward the end of spring drills.
10. Will Pruitt smile?
That might be a good indication that the Vols are on the right track. However, it’s not the final determination. It seems as if the stoic Pruitt might not even smile if his players live up to his lofty expectations.
Jarrett Guarantano cover photo via @Vol_Football