Via UT Media Relations
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee football head coach Jeremy Pruitt stressed the importance of details following spring practice No. 11 on Thursday at Haslam Field.
The Vols, who donned full pads on a sunny evening in the mid-70s, will hold their second scrimmage of the spring on Saturday night in Neyland Stadium, and the first-year head coach wants his team to improve the little things.
“There’s a lot of little things that have nothing to do with ability, just details and execution,” Pruitt said. “You have to do it when things aren’t going well. It’s not always going to go your way, so you have to find some way to kind of turn it around. So, again, that’s being in adverse situations and we have to figure out if some of our guys are going to do a better job responding Saturday.”
Redshirt junior Quart’e Sapp and sophomore Will Ignont have received the bulk of the reps at inside linebacker in the Vols’ new 3-4 scheme, but Tennessee has seen veterans Darrin Kirkland, Jr., and Daniel Bituli see increased practice time as they return from injuries.
“Daniel is starting to advance,” Pruitt said. “He participated today, he practiced today. I’ve said we’ve got a lot of guys that are getting close, and if we practiced another week, we’d almost have everybody back. He’s one of the guys that’s out there. Darrin took the next step. He’ll probably be back next week, so it will be possible to get these guys some reps as we move forward.”
While Pruitt did not say if the duo would be available for the DISH Orange and White Game next Saturday, the pair returning to health will hopefully give Tennessee some depth and experience at the position this fall.
“It’s probably too early to tell,” Pruitt said. “I would have to see where we’re at by next Tuesday to get an idea. So, we’ll see, but it will be close, which is a good thing. Those guys (Kirkland and Bituli) are kind of anxious to get out there.”
Kirkland, a redshirt junior, missed all of last season with a knee injury, but he captured All-SEC Freshman honors as UT’s starting middle linebacker in 2015. Kirkland started 16 games in 2015-16 and has totaled 111 tackles in his career.
Bituli, a junior, led the Vols with 90 tackles in 2017, including 23 in the season-opener against Georgia Tech. Sapp finished fourth on UT with 78 stops a year ago, while Ignont showed flashed in six games as a true freshman.
Give a Hand to the Running Backs
While he didn’t name a frontrunner for the starting position among the group, Pruitt said he liked the hands of all of the running backs on the Vols’ the roster, including sophomores Ty Chandler, Tim Jordan and Trey Coleman, and redshirt freshman Princeton Fant – a converted tight end/wide receiver.
“All of those guys, you put them out there and they’ve all got good hands,” Pruitt said. “They have pretty good vision. They’ve got good enough speed. So, I think it’s too early to single any of them out. You can take Ty, you can take Tim, you can take Trey, you can take Princeton, you put them all in that one group, and they have good days and they have bad days. So, we have to find a little more consistency in all of them.”
Chandler saw the most action last season, totaling 305 yards rushing, while making 10 receptions for 108 yards as a backup.
Jordan played in all 12 games in 2017, but only had 11 carries. He did make eight catches for 65 yards, however.
Phillips Emerging as a Leader
Senior defensive end Kyle Phillips has been a leader off the field for the Vols since he arrived in Knoxville from Nashville. Phillips was inducted into the Omicron Delta Kappa Leadership Society last fall and has been a member of the SEC Academic Honor Roll in addition to traveling to Vietnam last summer as a member of the VOLeaders Academy. The fourth-year player has the potential to emerge as a leader on the field, too.
“I think that he has been willing to do anything that we ask him to do,” Pruitt said. “He makes very good grades. Every week on the academic report, I see all ‘A’s’. He is a very good student and a good kid. He’s been very willing to do whatever we ask him to do since I have been here.”
Phillips started seven games in 2017 and made 35 tackles, including 4.5 TFLs. He has played in 29 games in his career with eight starts.