School of Hard Knox: Pruitt needs time to change Vol’s culture

USA Today

“I don’t know how things were done around here before, but when you tell someone to go in and they don’t, aight, we’re not going to do that around here. So, I asked him to leave the sidelines.”

That was Jeremy Pruitt after the Florida game to reporters on asking Jr. linebacker Quart’e Sapp to leave the sidelines during a game that got out of hand quickly for the Vols Saturday night. By that one sentence, it’s clear from that statement Pruitt is frustrated with the culture currently among his players inside the program; “I don’t know how things were done around here before.”

It’s been the problem for years in Knoxville. Butch Jones was a very good composite-ranking recruiter. He went out and got 4-star and 5-star players, but not many of them panned out to be superstars. Why? Because he recruited players who don’t have the “it” factor, that elusive, highly-coveted trait that encompasses what it takes to win games. Some might call it being a “dog.” Jones recruited nice guys and big names because they were big names.

On defense, besides Shy Tuttle and Kyle Phillips, Pruitt’s juniors and seniors are a no-show this year. Jonathan Kongbo has all but gone into hiding while playing every defensive snap. Not to pick on Kongbo, but he’s the prime example of the type of player Butch loved. He’s built like a robot, he’s a good kid who’s never been in trouble, but he’s never made a great play.

The only noteworthy play in the Florida match-up on defense was made by freshman Alontae Taylor, who forced a fumble and changed the momentum of the game. The almost all-freshman cast of defensive backs Pruitt has starting play with an edge. They get up with their heads bobbing as they talk trash to the other team. They’re always around the ball and that’s a peek into the future of Tennessee football under Pruitt.

On the offensive side of the house, Tennessee’s running backs are another example of Butch Jones-style players. Chandler and Jordan are both very talented athletes, but they still don’t run with that edge. When freshman Jeremy Banks gets into the game, he runs violently. He ran brutally with two minutes left in a blowout game against Florida.

One thing that completely stuck out to me on Saturday, though, is the play that knocked sophomore Jarrett Guarantano out of the game. It seemed like a dirty play by Cece Jefferson of Florida because Trey Smith, who is Guarantano’s tackle and one of the so-called “dogs” of the offense, watched Jefferson do it and didn’t respond in the least. If that were Tom Brady, an offensive lineman for the Patriots might be in jail today. The quarterback has to trust his offensive line, and with a bad one already, that trust is inherently thin.

Pruitt needs time to compete in the Southeastern Conference. Sometimes, it looks like Alabama’s players couldn’t care less if their opponents live or die on the field. That’s what it takes in football. Football is a violent sport and if you don’t play with an edge, you’ll get destroyed. Pruitt knows that edge because he’s seen it firsthand. Unfortunately, there’s no tanking in college football. Otherwise, I suggest Pruitt play all freshman the rest of the year.

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