KNOXVILLE — Two national college football media personalities who visited Tennessee in the past two weeks came away from their visits with coach Jeremy Pruitt sharing vastly different ideas of what the Volunteers could accomplish in 2018.
SEC Network analyst Marcus Spears told "The Paul Finebaum Show" he believes Tennessee could reach seven or eight wins this season. Stewart Mandel, editor-in-chief of The All-American, left Knoxville believing the Vols could be headed for a season that mirrors last year's 4-8 campaign in which they were winless in Southeastern Conference play.
"I got the sense that if they don't get some really good grad transfers here in the next couple months, they might go 0-8 again," Mandel said on "The Audible," his podcast with college football writer Bruce Feldman. "It's that bad."
Their differing views highlight the mystery still surrounding a team in transition.
With one week remaining until the spring game at Neyland Stadium, there are plenty of unanswered questions about the Vols, but the first four weeks of spring practices have brought some level of insight into Pruitt's first team at Tennessee.
Tennessee is still active on the graduate transfer market
The Vols have already landed Stanford graduate transfer quarterback Keller Chryst and Michigan State graduate transfer running back Madre London to immediately compete for playing time, and they are looking for more graduate transfers.
That's part of the reason why coaches worked players at new positions this week.
"I mean, there's people out there that are grad transfers that may be looking to leave, and we need to know what we need and what we don't need," Pruitt said. "So, move some guys around."
Tennessee's most obvious positions of need are offensive line, wide receiver and cornerback. The graduate transfer database on gradtransfertracker.com lists several players looking for new schools who would be eligible immediately at those positions. More graduate transfers may be available as schools conclude spring practices this month.
Jarrett Guarantano has not separated himself at quarterback
Pruitt has been hesitant to mention Tennessee's quarterbacks by name, and he has not handed out much public praise to redshirt sophomore quarterback Jarrett Guarantano or sophomore Will McBride. In short, the quarterback competition appears to be wide open as Chryst and freshman J.T. Shrout prepare to enter the fray this summer.
Guarantano clearly added needed muscle to his frame during the offseason, which helps his case. But the fact that McBride drew praise from some onlookers at last week's scrimmage is another indication that Guarantano is not necessarily destined to be the starter just because he started six games last season.
Even if Chryst wins the job in 2018, Guarantano would still have two seasons as the probable starter if he is willing to stick around as a backup for one more year.
Pruitt will show some personality
He comes from the Nick Saban coaching tree and is gaining a reputation for being all about football, but Pruitt will show some personality, even at his own expense. One of Pruitt's critiques about his team after its first scrimmage of the spring centered on poor body language.
Asked Tuesday about any improvements in that regard, Pruitt showed the ability to snap out of robotic football coach-speak mode in a natural and comical way.
"It's funny you talk about body language," Pruitt said. "I threw out the first pitch the other night at the baseball game, and I threw it about 6 yards left of home plate. We had a catcher back there, and he couldn't even get over there to it, it was so far left.
"So my wife calls me after the baseball game, and she said, 'Coach Pruitt,' and I said, 'Yes ma'am.' She said 'If you're going to preach about body language, how about demonstrating it yourself. You threw that ball up against the backstop. You should have seen yourself walking off of the field.' So she straightened me out really fast on that pitch."
Pruitt will probably never be the comedian Derek Dooley was, but Tennessee fans will probably appreciate his straightforward talk and the occasional glimpse at a relatable demeanor after the previous five years with Butch Jones as coach using clichés and catchphrases.