Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt offered his share of specifics this past Saturday, when he revealed that a scheduled scrimmage had to be reduced to a practice due to 44 player absences.
Late Thursday afternoon, Pruitt's specifics were replaced by frustration reflecting the continued challenge of trying to get a team ready for a season in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nobody was expecting a clean bill of health on the coronavirus front after Saturday's report, but Pruitt seemed a bit more tired by the topic.
"We've had so many guys out that I can't keep count of who's available and who's not available, and it changes by the day," Pruitt said on a Zoom call. "To be specific on names — my days have really run together when it comes to that, so I probably wouldn't be much good."
Pruitt said last Saturday that the Volunteers had seven or eight absences due to active COVID-19 cases and that 27 or 28 were the result of contact tracing.
The Vols practiced Monday on Haslam Field and trekked to Neyland Stadium on Wednesday night for a scrimmage that Pruitt said consisted of roughly 40 situational plays. He considered the scrimmage "sloppy" but did single out fifth-year senior Ja'Quain Blakely and redshirt sophomore Kurott Garland for their improving play on the defensive front.
Tennessee is nearing the two-week mark from its Sept. 26 opener at South Carolina, and the strange preseason in Knoxville will have to continue being a bit bizarre.
"We really need to stay in camp form and focus on fundamentals," Pruitt said, "and we've got to really kind of hone in here in the next 10 days and make strides as a football team in all three phases, because there is a lot of work that has to be done."
The Vols have players such as defensive lineman LaTrell Bumphus and linebacker Jeremy Banks who have performed on both sides of the ball during their college careers, but using a two-way talent to counter a thinning position group has not been implemented to this point.
Pruitt does not expect Tennessee to be able to use all 25 preseason practices that were allotted by the Southeastern Conference once the league announced its delayed start and 10-game schedule consisting solely of league games. Making up lost practices by working out three consecutive days "would do more harm than good," he added.
A moment of levity on the Zoom call occurred when Pruitt was asked who would take the reins if he had to be quarantined.
"(Receivers coach) Tee Martin is the assistant head coach," Pruitt said. "I think (offensive coordinator) Jim Chaney is the winningest coach in Tennessee history at 1-0, so I know he wouldn't want that. He's going to take that mark with him for the rest of his life, so he would absolutely be out."
Chaney was Tennessee's offensive coordinator and interim head coach for the 2012 season finale, when the Vols whipped Kentucky 37-17 inside Neyland Stadium in a matchup of teams that were 0-7 in conference play. Derek Dooley had been fired after a 41-18 loss at Vanderbilt the previous week, and Chaney's one league win in three hours matched Dooley's league wins in the 2011-12 seasons combined.