Tennessee was slated to have a scrimmage on Saturday but settled for a regular practice instead. Why? Because the Vols didn't have enough players. Coach Jeremy Pruitt said on Saturday that 44 players were out with many of those due to either positive COVID-19 tests or contact tracing. The Volunteers only had 30 offensive players available.
Pruitt said that, of those 44 players who sat out, only "seven or eight" were due to positive tests., though there were a couple dozen more in quarantine.
"All of those guys are not COVID related," he said. "Some of those guys, whether it's soft tissue injury or [other injuries], you know Austin Pope has got his back [injury]. We've done surgery on Tamarion McDonald. Len'Neth Whitehead is a guy that still is recovering from his surgery, so I don't know the exact number as far as COVID related, but I think it's close to 27 or 28 when you talk about quarantine people also."
NCAA guidelines regarding COVID-19 say that players who test positive must sit for 10 days and have three days without symptoms before returning to action. Players who have been determined to have "high-risk" contact with players who test positive are required to sit for 14 days. "High-risk" contact is defined as being within 6 feet of somebody who tests positive for 15 or more minutes without face covering.
Pruitt did not specify the players who sat out due to COVID-19 or how long they will be in quarantine, and it is unclear when Tennessee will be able to field a full team. It does have time, though, before the Vols will travel to South Carolina on Sept. 26 to open the season. When the time comes to kick things off, Pruitt doesn't know how many players he will need to have available for the game against the Gamecocks.
"To me, it's first off, the safety of the kids," he said. "When you start reducing the numbers and start getting the workload that comes in preparation, these guys are not professionals. They need to work on fundamentals and the details. They need to learn how to play because you've got guys that maybe have been in the program for four years, and you have guys that just got here. When you start lining them up beside each other, a guy goes the wrong way, that's when you get guys hurt. So, we really tried to take advantage of our walk-throughs to teach the guys so we can eliminate mental errors."
Tennessee is the latest school to deal with significant personnel issues related to COVID-19 testing. Auburn had 16 players out of commission and didn't practice last week due to positive tests and contact tracing. Coach Gus Malzahn said on Saturday that it recorded zero positive tests during two testing sessions this week. LSU had all but four offensive linemen available to practice late last month due to the same issue.