One of the easiest things to do in sports — for both fans and the media — is to give up on a player way, way too early.
It happens all the time. Sometimes it ends up being justified. Other times, the player makes fans/media look foolish by figuring it all out and becoming a key contributor.
There are two specific instances of the latter with the Tennessee Vols in 2019.
The first is obvious — quarterback Jarrett Guarantano. I was among those who were calling for Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt to bench Guarantano earlier this year.
And while I believe starting Brian Maurer against Mississippi State was the right move, I have to admit that I didn’t have any hope for Guarantano moving forward. At that point, I pretty much thought his contributions to Tennessee were done.
But oh man was I wrong.
Guarantano has played key role in the Vols’ current three game winning streak. Without Guarantano, Tennessee probably isn’t in a position to finish the season with a possible 7-5 record.
Does that happen without Guarantano getting benched?
But the Vols also wouldn’t be in this position if Pruitt had the same attitude toward Guarantano as the majority of fans/media had earlier this season.
The other player that I feel like a lot of folks gave up on is defensive back Nigel Warrior. The senior, who is the son of former UT defensive back Dale Carter, has had an inconsistent (and frustrating at times) career at Tennessee.
Have a Nigel Warrior bad play count going at 3…
– bad kick return decision
– missed tackle on 3rd down
— Austin Stanley (@AustinStanley81) November 17, 2018
For the majority of his career, it’s felt like Warrior would take two steps forward and one step back.
In 2019, however, Warrior is finally living up the expectations. He hasn’t played perfect this season, but he’s still playing the best football of his college career. Warrior is currently second in the SEC in interceptions (4) and second on team in tackles (58).
The Vol legacy has also developed into an important leader for Tennessee.
Pruitt touched on Warrior’s leadership abilities on Monday, telling reporters “He’s been a really good leader for us. He has improved tremendously from last year to this year and he continues to get better.”
The Vols’ second year head coach added “He’s playing his best football right now. He’s kind of turning into a complete player, whether it’s playing the ball, playing man-to-man, or tackling in space, he has improved and continues to improve in all of those areas.”
Never give up on players
Great coaches never give up on players — especially when they see potential in them.
It’s hard to remember that the coaching staff sees a lot more than fans/media see. Fans see a three hour game on Saturdays. Reporters get to see a few minutes of some individual drills a couple of times a week. The coaching staff, however, sees it all. They see what a player is truly capable of doing on the field.
Pruitt’s decision to put his faith in Guarantano and Warrior has paid major dividends this season. The Vols are playing their best football of the year and those two are a big part of the equation that’s led Tennessee to this point.
Not only should Vol fans have hope that UT finishes the 2019 season on a high note, they should also have a lot of faith in Pruitt’s coaching abilities moving forward.
Featured image via Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports