Vols call off Friday's football practice after COVID-19 uptick; Saturday in question

Tennessee Athletics photo by Andrew Ferguson / The Tennessee Volunteers, shown here during Tuesday's indoor practice at the Anderson Training Center, took Friday off from workouts following multiple positive COVID tests.

Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt announced Friday afternoon that preseason practice has been suspended due to an uptick in COVID-19 cases among the team.

Pruitt did not provide specific numbers, nor would he project when the Volunteers would resume. Tennessee's next workout is scheduled for Saturday night.

"As you guys know, we continue to constantly test within our program," Pruitt said on a Zoom call, "and we have really had very good results the entire time with the exception of the time I gave them eight days off for the Fourth of July. This week, we had a few more positive tests, so I elected to shut practice down, and we retested everybody again this morning to see where we're at.

"Our No. 1 priority is to protect everybody associated with our program, and that's what we're going to continue to do. As we get the results back, we'll see exactly where we're at and will start practice back up accordingly."

Tennessee isn't the only Southeastern Conference program dealing with a rise in COVID-19 cases, with Auburn canceling practices Wednesday and Thursday. The Vols have conducted six practices so far this preseason, including a couple in full pads.

Pruitt, who stated Aug. 17 that there had been 23 positive cases since the start of summer, is not operating with any kind of threshold that determines whether or not his team works out.

"We've not put a number on the testing," he said. "We've been very low to zero for the most part the entire summer with the exception of that one week. We weren't at zero or one this week, so we want to make sure we figure out why. We've got our students back on campus, and it's something our student-athletes are going to have to live with. We've got to make good decisions and that when you're around someone, you have to have a mask on at all times.

"We want to make sure it's not spreading within our building, because up to this point, we've had zero spread in the tracing from within our building."

Tennessee football players want to participate in a social justice rally with other Vols student-athletes Saturday before practicing, but it's not a certainty that both can transpire as scheduled. Pruitt said the rally has been planned for several weeks.

"If it means we can't practice tomorrow, then we won't practice tomorrow," Pruitt said. "This was my decision through our athletic training department. We get 25 practices, right? We've got a bunch of days to get them in.

"It's not like we're running out of time or anything like that. We just want to make sure that we're protecting our players and reassuring their safety."

Gibbs not playing

Redshirt junior Deangelo Gibbs, who was a defensive back at Georgia during the 2017-18 seasons and sat out last year after transferring, will not play this season. Gibbs has practiced both at receiver and in the secondary for the Vols.

"Deangelo has elected not to play this fall and is going to focus on his academics," Pruitt said. "He's still with our team and continues to do a really good job academically, but he's going to sit this fall out."

Gibbs, a top-50 national prospect in the 2017 class out of Loganville, Georgia, figured prominently on Tennessee's scout team last season. In his two years with the Bulldogs, he tallied 10 tackles in 13 games.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.