KNOXVILLE — Jeremy Pruitt said he's a big believer in knowing what you're going to get when filling out a football roster.
"One of the big things for me in recruiting is relationships," Pruitt said Wednesday.
That's why college football's first-ever early signing period presented a conundrum for Tennessee's new football coach after he was hired Dec. 7.
Pruitt had less than two weeks to build relationships with 14 high school seniors who signed with the Volunteers from Dec. 20 to Dec. 22. All the while, he was preparing to coordinate Alabama's defense in the College Football Playoff.
"There's some of the guys that we recruited, some of them we knew for nine days," Pruitt said. "So they might have passed the evaluation part as far as what they are as football players, but sometimes it's hard to get to know everybody in nine days and get all the information."
This time around, Pruitt and the Vols have a little bit more time to learn about the players they're recruiting, beyond what their high school highlight reels show.
A dead period for college football recruiting ended as Thursday ended, giving Tennessee's new staff almost four weeks to continue building relationships with players from the 2018 recruiting class as the Vols seek to add another 10 to 12 players to the 14 signed last month.
"Out of those 14 guys, we have now seven that are here (on campus), and we still have one that's waiting on a bit of paperwork to get here," Pruitt said. "We have to finish up this class, and I'm looking forward to doing it. We also need to start on the 2019 class and the 2020 class."
Tennessee's 2018 recruiting class is currently ranked 16th nationally according to 247Sports.com and 15th nationally according to Rivals.com. The group includes four players who have committed but have not signed, in addition to the 14 signees.
"As far as where we're going from here, I don't think that would be very smart on my part to let everybody know what we're looking for, so we'll just keep that a secret right now," Pruitt said.
A glance at the prospects the Vols are hosting for official visits this weekend shows Tennessee is looking for speed. Of the eight prospects who have indicated they are taking the official visits, three are wide receivers and one each is a running back, a cornerback and an athlete. The other two are highly touted linebackers, J.J. Peterson and Quay Walker from south Georgia. Peterson committed to the Vols last week, while Walker is committed to Alabama.
Pruitt was asked Wednesday how he factors the scouting of Tennessee's current roster into evaluating the team's recruiting needs. He said he bases his evaluation off the number of players at each position and "not exactly the quality at the numbers."
"To me, it's about the numbers that you have at the position so you can make it through spring ball," Pruitt said. "From there we're trying to find guys who pass our criteria when it comes to the recruiting front. The size, speed, do they have the intangibles? Are they good students? Are they good leaders? Are they captains of their football team? Do we think we can win a championship with them? For us, if we're going to extend a scholarship offer to these guys, we want them to meet those criteria."
Recruiting as a head coach as compared to an assistant coach comes with some adjustment for Pruitt, who spent the past five seasons as defensive coordinator at Florida State, Georgia and Alabama.
Pruitt shared that he and new Vols offensive coordinator Tyson Helton were planning recruiting visits recently when Helton looked at Pruitt, who was furiously scribbling out a plan, and shared a friendly reminder.
"You do realize you are the head football coach now?" Helton asked Pruitt. "You only get one time, Jeremy."
Rules limit the number of visits that head coaches are allowed to make to high school prospects.
"I'm used to seeing everybody one time a week," Pruitt said. "As a head football coach, you get one time for the year.
"That part I don't really like. I like to go see them once a week for sure."
Contact David Cobb at email@example.com.
Updated at 12:14 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018.