Number of unavailable Tennessee Vols has 'dramatically declined' as football opener approaches
More Tennessee football players are coming out of quarantine and returning to practice as the season opener approaches.
Tennessee’s number of unavailable players is decreasing after a stretch earlier in the preseason when more than 40 players were unable to practice, the majority of whom where withheld because of reasons related to COVID-19.
“We've not had as much COVID (cases) as we've had (players out because of) contact tracing, but there was definitely a two-week period where we had as many as 40 or 50 players (unavailable) for practice," Vols coach Jeremy Pruitt said Wednesday during an appearance on “The Paul Finebaum Show."
"Those numbers have dramatically declined over the last couple of days, so we're starting to get guys back as we start preparing for South Carolina.”
Pruitt said after a Sept. 5 practice that 44 players were unavailable for practice that day. That included “seven or eight” players who were out after testing positive for COVID-19, and more than two dozen additional players who were in quarantine because of contact tracing. Other players were unable to practice because of injuries.
The situation had improved by the following week. Pruitt told the Knoxville Quarterback Club on Monday that the team was without 34 players during a scrimmage on Saturday.
“That’s the least amount we’ve had out probably in two weeks,” Pruitt said Monday. “So, it’s really kind of hindered the development of our football team, especially the younger players.”
No. 17 Tennessee is scheduled to open the season against South Carolina on Sept. 26 (7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network) in Columbia.
Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp’s team has been affected, too. Muschamp said on Sept. 10 that two players were unavailable for that day after testing positive for COVID-19, and an additional nine players were in quarantine because of contact tracing.
Pruitt said his coaching staff will need to be attentive to creating practice situations to prepare players who have been unavailable for preseason scrimmages.
“For the guys that have obviously missed a lot of practice time, the first thing you’re concerned about is guys who handled the football, because you need to get bumped around and tackled during fall camp,” Pruitt said on “Finebaum.”
“We’re going to have several guys that’s not had that opportunity, so we’ve got to be creative as a staff to present that to them in a controlled environment leading up for the next 10 days. And then, obviously, the fundamental part of blocking and tackling. You know, the unique thing about football, the only way you can improve at it is to actually go out there and do it over and over and over again.”
Although scores of Vols have been unable to practice at one point or another during the preseason, Pruitt applauded his team’s focus.
“We’ve obviously had a lot of guys out, but the guys that have been here have been very positive,” Pruitt said. “They’ve worked hard. We’ve got a really good culture with our guys here, really good leadership, so we’re excited about getting started.”
Blake Toppmeyer covers University of Tennessee football. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it. Current subscribers can click here to join Blake's subscriber-only text group offering updates and analysis on Vols football.