Tennessee had 44 players unavailable for Saturday’s football practice, leading coach Jeremy Pruitt to nix plans for a scheduled scrimmage.
Pruitt said the team has “seven or eight” players with active cases of COVID-19, while more than two dozen other players are unable to practice because of contact-tracing protocol that requires them to quarantine. Additionally, a few players are unavailable because of injury.
“It’s definitely been challenging,” Pruitt said. “We’ve got to continue to improve as a football team and just figure out the circumstances and figure out a way to be productive.”
The majority of the unavailable players are offensive players. Pruitt said only 30 offensive players were available for Saturday’s practice.
“I think our guys are trying to do the right thing,” Pruitt said. “They’re aware of it. You know, if somebody that you live with (tests positive), you’re in quarantine. In our county, that’s the way it is. It might be like that everywhere. We’ve had some of that.
“But, I don’t think it’s something to where our players are not being responsible. I definitely don’t think that.”
SEC rules mandate that anyone who had a high-risk contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 is required to quarantine for 14 days. A high-risk contact is defined as prolonged close contact (greater than 15 minutes within 6 feet) during the period of infectivity.
Testing negative for COVID-19 does not shorten or remove the 14-day quarantine period.
“The contact tracing and the numbers, as they add up, it’s been very tough to be able to prepare a team to play,” Pruitt said.
Pruitt said Tennessee has had 48 players who have, at some point, been required to quarantine for at least 14 days because of contact-tracing protocol. Of those, he said, three tested positive for COVID-19.
Under Tennessee’s original schedule, the Vols were slated to open the season Saturday against Charlotte.
The schedule was restructured because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Tennessee’s 10-game, SEC-only schedule is now set to open on Sept. 26 at South Carolina.
“I’m really happy we didn’t play today,” Pruitt said.
Pruitt said on Aug. 17 that 23 Vols players had tested positive for COVID-19 since players returned to campus in June. Since then, several more players have tested positive. The team canceled its Aug. 28 practice because of positive tests.
SEC teams are allowed 25 preseason practices. Saturday marked Tennessee’s 10th through three weeks. Pruitt said the Vols probably will reach 20 to 22 practices.
Blake Toppmeyer covers University of Tennessee football. Email him at email@example.com 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.