This story was updated Tuesday, August 18, 2020, at 8:11 p.m. with more information.
The potential of Tennessee's third staff under the guidance of head football coach Jeremy Pruitt was on display this past spring.
With the nation and the sports world reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Volunteers went on a recruiting binge that resulted in an ascension to No. 2 in the 247Sports.com rankings behind Ohio State. The top-50 national tandem of weakside defensive end Dylan Brooks of Roanoke, Alabama, and outside linebacker Terrence Lewis of Miami ignited the surge in late April, but Pruitt believes his assistants have been thriving under the radar as well.
"I feel like our staff has really done an outstanding job handling this whole pandemic," Pruitt said Monday night after Tennessee's opening preseason workout. "The No. 1 priority with us has been our relationships with our players. These guys went home in the middle of March and didn't get back until June 8, and not all of them got back on June 8. Some of them got back in July.
"Going from seeing these guys every single day to not being able to see them has been tough. Luckily, with Zoom and FaceTime, we tried to have as many face-to-face meetings with our players as we possibly could to be there for them."
The Vols, incidentally, are currently sixth in the national recruiting rankings behind Ohio State, Alabama, Clemson, LSU and Oregon.
Just two of Tennessee's assistants — offensive line coach Will Friend and quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke — are entering their third seasons in Knoxville occupying their previous roles. Brian Niedermeyer is also in year three with Pruitt, but he is overseeing inside linebackers after spending the past two seasons as tight ends coach.
Tennessee offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley are in their second seasons. Last year's offense under Chaney averaged 365.5 yards and 24.2 points per game, up from the averages of 325.5 and 22.8 two seasons ago, while Ansley's defense yielded 334.5 yards and 21.7 points per game after the 2018 Vols allowed 377.4 and 27.9.
Receivers coach Tee Martin is also in his second year, leaving four newcomers — defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh, outside linebackers coach Shelton Felton, running backs coach Jay Graham and tight ends coach Joe Osovet. It's actually the third year in the program for Osovet, who arrived in 2018 in a player development role.
Fulmer announces Neyland Stadium to have 25% capacity this season
Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer announced Tuesday that Neyland Stadium would “likely” have a 25% capacity this season for its five home games against Missouri, Kentucky, Alabama, Texas A&M and Florida.
Fulmer made the comment during a news conference with Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee. The 25% target falls between projections made Tuesday by Alabama, which plans to have 20% capacity at Bryant-Denny Stadium, and Texas A&M, which is aiming for 30% capacity at Kyle Field.
The facilities at Alabama, Tennessee and Texas A&M can each hold more than 101,000 spectators.
The staff consists of five Black and five white coaches, with Pruitt pointing out in mid June how everyone came together in the program when demonstrations erupted throughout the country after the senseless death of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police.
"I'm excited about the men who are on our staff," Pruitt said Monday. "I believe in them. I know where their hearts are, and I am excited about the relationships they continue to build with our players.
"They all have the ability to be really good coaches."
SEC safety items
The Southeastern Conference announced several safety guidelines Tuesday for the upcoming season and revealed that stadium attendance will be left up to each of the 14 institutions in accordance with their respective state and local regulations.
Face coverings will be required in order to enter a stadium, move around in a stadium and to leave a stadium as well. At all points-of-sale concessions locations, plexiglass barriers must be installed.