By Ken Lay

It’s football time in Tennessee — again.

The Volunteers made it official when they opened fall camp late last week and coach Jeremy Pruitt is eager to begin his second season at the helm in Big Orange Country and he calls this the best time of the year.

“It was sitting here last night reflecting on it, I don’t know the exact number of how many fall camps this is for me, but I know one thing is, for me this is the most exciting time of the year,” said Pruitt, who inherited a program in shambles last season and managed to guide the Vols to five wins last season. “To get an opportunity to take 110 young men and to grow with the coaching staff and everybody that’s involved; and get a chance to create a team.

“Nobody knows what that team is going to be. You have to create your identity. You have to come together. And there’s lots of things that go into fall camp. It’s one of the few times that there’s not as many restrictions when it comes to the time you can spend with your players.”

At Thursday’s season-opening press conference it was evident that the Tennessee coaching staff, including Pruitt, are beaming with confidence as the Big Orange have 18 returning starters from the 2018 squad that pulled a monumental upset Southeastern Conference victory at Auburn.

And Pruitt has already put the 2017 campaign in the rear view mirror.

“I have confidence in our football team,” Pruitt said. “I have confidence in our coaches, the plan we have, the way I’ve seen our guys work in the offseason to change their bodies, eat what they’re supposed to and be in the classroom.

“We’re not concerned about last year. I don’t think about last year. Last year ended in November.”

Tennessee may have several starters back but Pruitt said that the Volunteers must be able to continue building depth and noted that preseason training camp is a time to get back to basics and the fundamentals of football. One of those fundamentals is taking care of the football.

“When you talk about winning football games, the first thing you have to be able to do is not beat yourself,” Pruitt said. “So something that we really have to focus on is we have to be a smart football team. We have to know what to do, be able to do it and execute.

“One thing to me is just the ball. When you didn’t turn the ball over in the Power Five, you have a 73 percent chance to win the game. You turn the ball over one time and it’s 51 percent.”

The Vols must protect the ball and be able to force turnovers to be successful.

Tennessee took the practice field for the first time Friday afternoon. It was the first of 28 rehearsal sessions before Tennessee welcomes Georgia State to Rocky Top.