Pruitt determined to make Vols' spring contest like a real game

In this Jan. 10, 2018, file photo, Tennessee Volunteers head coach Jeremy Pruitt speaks during a newss conference in Knoxville, Tenn. (Photo: Summer Simmons/University of Tennessee Athletics)

KNOXVILLE - When Tennessee travels to Charlotte, N.C., to play football against West Virginia at the Carolina Panthers' Bank of America Stadium on Sept. 1, Jeremy Pruitt doesn't want it to be the first time his team experiences a new pregame routine.

He also wants to have a pretty good idea of who the Volunteers' best competitors are.

For those reasons, the first-year Tennessee head coach is plotting the April 21 spring game at Neyland Stadium to mimic a real football game.

"To me, when you have the Orange and White game, you add the element when you create a game-like atmosphere," Pruitt said. "There's a little more excitement, a little more anxiety, a little more pressure, butterflies. Some guys perform better in those situations; some guys perform worse. We need to find out who those guys are."

The spring game Pruitt is planning is shaping up to have a different feel than the spring games did under Butch Jones. Those involved a complicated scoring system and other drills such as the "Circle of Life" and a throwing competition for quarterbacks.

A final determination on the precise format and length of this year's spring game will hinge partially on how many healthy players the Vols have available three weeks from now. But even down to having a Vol Walk - and possibly staying in a hotel on Friday night - Pruitt wants the event to replicate a fall Saturday.

"My goal is to treat it just like it's a game for us," he said. "We want to prepare and get used to our expectations, because everything is new. Everything is new to what these guys have been accustomed to. I don't want our first time to be when we are heading to Charlotte. We want to get it the way it's going to be the night before a game. That's what we are going to do."

Pruitt has hesitated to assign praise to players thus far through spring drills. The Vols wrap up the second of five weeks of spring practice Saturday on Haslam Field. Weeks three and four are scheduled to feature scrimmages and time on the field at Neyland Stadium, which should give Pruitt a better idea of where certain players stand as the Vols adjust to new offensive and defensive schemes.

"I have seen guys that practice really well, then go to a scrimmage situation so it's new and they have anxiety so they don't perform well at the stadium," Pruitt said. "You have guys that perform fine in all of the practice situations and then go to the stadium and there is 102,000 people in the stadium and they have anxiety there and they don't respond in the right way."

The spring game is scheduled for a 2 p.m. start. Several players from the 2018 signing class and others rehabbing injuries during the spring won't be able to play.

But those who are here and healthy will have an opportunity to make an impression on the new staff.

"That's one of the things we talked about going into spring practice: It was finding the guys who love to compete when the game is on the line," Pruitt said. "The only way to figure that out is to put them in a game-like situation. Pick sides and let's go."

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