Vols in Jacksonville: Guarantano practices without brace in Tennessee’s first Gator Bowl practice in Florida


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (WATE) – Tennessee’s first practice in Jacksonville is in the books. The Vols worked out Sunday afternoon on the campus of the University of North Florida, about 15 minutes from the site of the 75th annual Gator Bowl Thursday night at TIAA Bank Field.

“It feels good,” Tennessee junior offensive lineman Trey Smith said about practice. “It’s fun being down here, a different scene. It was really humid when we first got down here so it was like, ‘here we go again’ but it’s always fun.”

“It’s a little bit of a different setting because we’ve had a few off days here and there so it’s kind of hard to get back in the groove but I think we’ve done a really good job and just getting used to this Florida weather down here,” Vols tight end Austin Pope said. “I think everyone is getting acclimated to it, getting prepared and I think everybody is really focused for the game.”

“It was good practice,” Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano said. “We came out with a lot of good energy we were really excited to get back and we have a big opponent in Indiana that we are looking forward to so we knew we had to have a good one.”

Guarantano is preparing for his first bowl game as the Vols’ starting quarterback and doing so without a brace on his hand and wrist. Guarantano wore a glove on his left hand at practice on Sunday, the same one he had surgery on in October after an injury against South Carolina. He says the brace came off sometime last week and he’s still getting used to having it off.

“I was a little nervous having it off for a little bit,” Guarantano said. “I have a lot of damage in there, a lot of screws, a lot of those things but having it off feels a lot better and I should be all right for the game.”

There have been questions about who will snap Guarantano the ball on Thursday against Indiana. Brandon Kennedy had a minor procedure on his knee after the regular season. Jeremy Pruitt said Kennedy will practice this week but remains a game-time decision. The redshirt senior center spent time on Sunday working under center with Guarantano.

“He’s coming back a little bit trying to ease his way into some things but Jerome (Carvin) has been doing a really good job and so has Riley Locklear but having BK back would really be a lot of help,” Guarantano said.

“BK Is wise beyond his years honestly, probably the most mature player we have on his team,” Trey Smith said. “He’s never going to do anything to jeopardize himself. He’s obviously fighting through it and doing everything he needs to do every day. He’s the ultimate competitor, he’s always writing notes in meetings, you can’t ask for a better player than him.”

Smith is preparing for what could be the last game of his career at Tennessee. The junior offensive lineman will have a decision to make after the Gator Bowl on whether or not he will enter the NFL Draft.

“Right now I’m just more so focused on beating Indiana and make sure we have a good gameplan,” Smith said. “I have not really looked down the road too much. Whenever the game is over I will be able to discuss that a lot more.”

Tennessee has a full week planned before gameday. The Vols will visit the Mayport Naval Base on Monday before getting in a round of Topgolf on Tuesday.

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