The Tennessee football team returned to practice on Tuesday at Haslam Field in shells after an off day and a lighter workout following the weekend scrimmage.
UT head coach Jeremy Pruitt praised the performance of his experienced offense following practice.
“There was pretty good tempo there on the offensive side today,” Pruitt said. “And, I’m going to say it again, we have more experience on the offense. We have more maturity. When you give them a couple of days off and you go back to work, you would expect them to have little bit of juice about them and the offensive side did.”
Even with the increased tempo that the offense has shown throughout camp, Pruitt can still seek improvement in all phases of the game.
“To me it’s pretty simple,” Pruitt said. “How can we improve in every phase? Assignments – let’s know what to do. It sounds pretty simple, but you would be amazed at how many times people play a play and don’t know what to do. I’m not talking about Tennessee, I’m talking about everywhere. Knowing how to align, whether it’s a wide receiver with a proper split, the location of the running back.”
Offense Returns Production
The offense returns its leading passer in Jarrett Guarantano, rusher in Ty Chandler and receiver in Marquez Callaway from the previous season for the first time since 1996 when Peyton Manning, Jay Graham and Joey Kent all returned. Tennessee also returns 98.5 percent of its receiving and 86.5 percent of its rushing production.
In 2018, Guarantano set a single-season program record with 166 consecutive passes without an interception, finishing with a 4:1 TD-INT ratio.
Freshman Stepping In As Needed
Freshman Aaron Beasley, who was listed at defensive back, was working with the linebackers on Tuesday. With a “bug” going around, the freshman is stepping up to fit the team’s needs.
“It’s really because we’re thin at the linebacker position,” Pruitt said. “We have a little bit of a bug going around. Aaron is a guy that would play money linebacker as a defensive back as he is going to take some reps there. Daniel Bituli has a sore knee and we’ve kept him out of a couple of practices here and we have to keep practicing even if guys get banged up or sick. We are making do with what we got and he is a guy that could probably play in there. I think he could play safety, we recruited him as a safety. He was a guy in high school who was 220 or 215 pounds and has really worked hard to get down to 205 or 206. I think from practice moving forward, today he works as a third team inside linebacker and a third team safety. I think he has an opportunity to play faster this year possibly in our nickel and sub packages as a linebacker.”
Shamburger Shows Maturity
Pruitt noted that junior Shawn Shamburger has shown improvement throughout the course of the year on and off the field. He is in the running to be Tennessee’s “star” nickel back.
Shamburger appeared in all 12 games with a pair of starts in 2018, recording 11 tackles and a pair of pass breakups.
“I would say he’s matured on and off the field,” Pruitt said. “He’s worked hard to do that. He’s shown that he can be a little more reliable and dependable. I think he’s got some ability. He’s a good competitor, has good feel for playing inside, so we’ll just continue to work him at STAR and see where that goes. You know, we’re working Alontae (Taylor) in there. Nigel (Warrior) can play there, Theo (Jackson), (Cheyenne) Labruzza, we double train our guys so they all can play multiple spots. We’re just out there right now trying to figure out who’s the best five that give us a chance to win, who’s going to be the sixth guy, who’s going to be the seventh guy, who’s going to be the eighth guy and so on.”
Special Teams Unit Continues to Impress
Pruitt continued his praise for his specialists on Thursday night. In 2018, the punt unit allowed an average of just two yards per return, setting a single-season program record. Most recently, long snapper Riley Lovingood was named to the watch list for the inaugural Patrick Mannelly Award given to the nation’s top long snapper.