Identifying 'best personnel' is Pruitt's priority for Vols

Identifying 'best personnel' is Pruitt's priority for Vols

April 14th, 2018 by David Cobb in Sports - College

Jeremy Pruitt watches Tennessee's linebackers go through a drill during practice on April 3.

Photo by David Cobb /Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE — If Butch Jones left extra copies of the 2017 Tennessee football depth chart behind for Jeremy Pruitt to reference, it seems they went straight to the paper shredder.

Tennessee concluded the fourth of five weeks of spring practices with a closed scrimmage Saturday at Neyland Stadium in which several players were expected to play positions other than what was listed next to their names on the official roster.

It's all part of an exploratory process spearheaded by Pruitt and Tennessee's new coaching staff that has a pretty simple goal.

"We have to figure out what our best personnel is," Pruitt said. "Once we figure out what our best personnel is, that is what we need to put on the field."

The approach to evaluating talent is bleeding over into decisions about the schemes the Volunteers will run in 2018. Pruitt has said the coaches will fit the schemes to suit their best players, rather than forcing players into roles that may be unnatural.

And instead of players being restricted to single positions, many are being cross-trained for more than one slot for when injuries occur.

"That's one of the reasons that we practice the way we do," Pruitt said. "That's why we move people around, to try and teach multiple positions, so if somebody does get hurt, we can play the next best football player, and not necessarily the backup."

Preparing players to play multiple positions was something the Vols did under Jones to a certain extent. Trey Smith, for example, played several positions on Tennessee's offensive line in 2017 because of injuries and attrition.

But Pruitt appears to be taking versatility to a new level by having players such as Tyler Byrd, Alontae Taylor, LaTrell Bumphus, Princeton Fant and others spend time on offense and defense in practice.

"I go back to my high school background," Pruitt said. "Sometimes you had to play guys on both sides of the ball. When it comes down to the last two minutes, I'd like to have the best players on the field. If we lose two or three guys at a certain position and we need to make some moves to figure out the best way and maybe have to change who we are, then we want to be able to do that. We don't want October or November to be the first time they've ever done it."

The extent to which Tennessee's defense will use fullbacks and tight ends appears to be undetermined as the staff evaluates the options it has at those positions.

"I wouldn't say that there are a lot of fullbacks on our team," Pruitt said. "We still have to figure out personnel and figure out who we are going to be."

No player on Tennessee's roster is listed as a fullback. Six are listed at tight end, and another will arrive this summer, junior college transfer Dominick Wood-Anderson, but Pruitt entered Saturday's scrimmage still hunting for answers at that position and several others.

"We are trying to figure out if we have any tight ends," he said. "I'm talking about tight ends that can block, not line up out there and run pass patterns. If we are going to run pass patterns, I would rather put wide receivers out there. How many wide receivers do we have that are hard to guard?

"We still have to figure out personnel and figure out who we are going to be."

Contact David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @DavidWCobb and on Facebook at facebook.com/volsupdate.