Jeremy Pruitt praises Vols fans, wonders where others were

Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt walks on the field before the Orange and White spring game at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, April 21, 2018 in Knoxville, Tenn.

KNOXVILLE - Jeremy Pruitt came away from his first experience at Neyland Stadium that included fans with some compliments and a challenge that echoed the challenge he issued to his players.

An announced crowd of 65,098 watched Tennessee's Orange team defeat the White team 34-7. That figure surpassed the 61,076 who were announced at the first spring game under Butch Jones in 2013, but Saturday's attendance was less than the 2018 spring game attendance at Georgia (82,184) and Alabama (74,732), which are Pruitt's most recent previous employers.

"Well, to me, it's kind of like our football team for the fans," the Volunteers' new coach said. "The ones that were here, I'm proud they were here. They're fired up and ready to get going. Then there were some people that wasn't here that had legitimate reasons they couldn't be here, all right. Then there were some people that wasn't here that, why wasn't they here? It's kind of like our football team.

"I think we all need to look in the mirror and see who we want to be."

Pruitt also mentioned that he thought the fan support "was great" and that the Vol Walk before the game was "spectacular."

Thin at linebacker

Inside linebackers Darrin Kirkland Jr. and Daniel Bituli did not play Saturday after returning from injuries midway through the spring practice session. The duo dressed out for the White team and went through warmups, but their absence on the field was noticeable as the Orange offense dominated. Redshirt junior Quart'e Sapp and sophomore Will Ignont manned the inside linebacker positions for the White team.

"Well, if everybody on offense wins, it's going to be a long year," Pruitt said. "The whole deal is you can't give up ones for ones on defense. You've got to be able to strike, get off blockers. So I think those guys can make a difference."

Other notable Vols on the sideline for the game included sophomore offensive lineman Trey Smith, freshman tight end Jacob Warren, redshirt senior safety Todd Kelly Jr., senior receiver Jauan Jennings, redshirt junior offensive lineman Chance Hall, redshirt sophomore tight end Ja'Quain Blakely and redshirt senior linebacker Dillon Bates.

It appears that Hall and Jennings have been awarded medical redshirts after Hall missed the entire 2017 season and Jennings played only in the first half of the season opener.

Special opportunities

With the graduation of standout punter Trevor Daniel, four-year kicker Aaron Medley and prolific kickoff returner Evan Berry, all of Tennessee's special-teams positions appear to be up for grabs. Sophomore running back Ty Chandler returned the game's first kickoff, which came from former Ooltewah High School kicker Laszlo Toser, who is a redshirt junior.

Junior safety Nigel Warrior was the White team's primary kick returner and averaged 26 yards on five returns.

True freshman Paxton Brooks averaged 39.6 yards on five punts, rebounding nicely from a 24-yard punt in the first quarter to boot one 51 yards. Redshirt freshman Joe Doyle punted twice, averaging 36 yards. Sophomore defensive back Theo Jackson and sophomore receiver Jordan Murphy returned punts also.

Caravan date

The Big Orange Caravan will roll through Chattanooga on May 10, stopping at the First Tennessee Pavilion 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Pruitt and athletic director Phillip Fulmer headline the event, which costs $5 in advance and $10 at the door for adults. Kids get in free.

Basketball coaches Rick Barnes and Holly Warlick also are expected to be there.

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