Tennessee football: Early concerning signs again in Vols 2019 spring practice

KNOXVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 08: Head coach Jeremy Pruitt of the Tennessee Volunteers brings his team onto the field prior to a game against the East Tennessee State University Buccaneers at Neyland Stadium on September 8, 2018 in Knoxville, Tennessee. Tennesee won the game 59-3. (Photo by Donald Page/Getty Images)
KNOXVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 08: Head coach Jeremy Pruitt of the Tennessee Volunteers brings his team onto the field prior to a game against the East Tennessee State University Buccaneers at Neyland Stadium on September 8, 2018 in Knoxville, Tennessee. Tennesee won the game 59-3. (Photo by Donald Page/Getty Images) /
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Tennessee football is just starting spring practice. But there are already concerning signs surrounding the Volunteers for the 2019 season.

Despite a 5-7 season in which Tennessee football lost six games by 25 or more points, there were reasons for excitement surrounding the Vols to start this year. It dealt with recruiting and the amount of returning talent.

Jeremy Pruitt’s second team pretty much returns everybody outside of the defensive line, and he did score a top 12 recruiting class that brought in 10 early enrollees and also has two more junior college players coming in the summer. Add in two transfers, and he’s got a better footing.

But the loss of the defensive linemen and the changes in staff members, particularly new coordinators on both sides of the ball, still warranted some concern. That’s where the Vols appear to be at after three spring practice.

On Monday, Jeremy Pruitt said something eerily similar to last year. You can read the full transcript of his press conference after Monday’s practice here on GoVols247, but there’s one part where he touted the offense and slammed the defense.

"“Our offense just kicked the defense’s tail, about as bad as I’ve seen it in a full-padded practice.”"

Pruitt doesn’t always say much, but when he does let details get out, you can use those bits of information to draw conclusions. And in this case, what he said there is eerily similar to what he said after the fourth spring practice last year, which you can read the full transcript of here.

"“Probably for me, I’m coming off the field and I’m ticked off, and I don’t know if it’s because I’m mad the way the whole team practiced or the offense kicked our tail. I ain’t figured it out yet. I’ve got to watch tape and see.”"

Both times, Pruitt was frustrated because of what the offense did to the defense. Now, last year, the Vols’ offense dominated throughout spring practice and then went on to be historically bad during the season while the defense wasn’t much of a problem.

However, this is always a concern. You never know which side it will affect, but conventional wisdom has always been that if the offense is ahead of the defense early on, your team has a problem. In that case, Tennessee football has a problem.

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Remember, the defense is replacing its entire line. And that’s going to be a concern until the season begins. But the offense has to learn a bit more of a new system under Jim Chaney, as Derrick Ansley is likely to just run Jeremy Pruitt’s exact schemes on defense.

Simply put, we know that conventional wisdom says it’s concerning if the offense is ahead of the defense early. We also know that the Vols’ offense was ahead of the defense early last year and then suffered a horrendous 5-7 season.

So this year, the fact that the offense is ahead of the defense early again is worthy of alarm. At least last year the defense could claim it was struggling with the transition to a 3-4. That’s not the case at all this time around.

As a result, the only explanation to this point for the offense being ahead of them is that the biggest offseason concern surrounding the team is coming true: the defense is suffering dramatically from the loss of all three defensive linemen. Alexis Johnson, Kyle Phillips and Shy Tuttle carried the unit last year.

Clearly, without them, things are a problem at this point. Pruitt at one point even specifically mentioned, when criticizing the defensive play, winning the line of scrimmage. How hard could it be to win the line against this offensive line?

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The good news for Tennessee football is that the Vols have three new defensive linemen coming in this summer. Two are junior college transfers, and two are four-stars. They also have another transfer who may be eligible to go. So Pruitt is getting the bodies in there to fix the situation. But at this point, history makes his early comments concerning for the Vols.