It’s no mystery that improvement within Tennessee’s offense starts at the quarterback position. A year after the Vols had four players start at quarterback, UT needs more consistent production at the position.
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney likes the growth he’s seen throughout the first two weeks of preseason practice.
“So far, so good with the development of the quarterbacks,” Chaney said during a Zoom call with reporters Thursday.
Jarrett Guarantano remains the frontrunner to be the starting quarterback. The bigger question is who secures the backup spot, where sophomores J.T. Shrout and Brian Maurer are in competition with freshman Harrison Bailey.
“Equal reps across the board, with J.T., Brian and also with Harrison,” Chaney said. “We’re giving everybody as many reps as we can. Everything is up in the air. It’s way too early to make decisions on that.
“Coach (Jeremy Pruitt) is trying to keep us in the most competitive environments we can. They’ve got to be put under the fire. We’ve got to be able to see how they’re going to react when things happen like that, to feel comfortable with them playing.”
As for Guarantano, Chaney has seen more good than bad from his fifth-year senior quarterback, a 25-game career starter.
“You can see that he’s demonstrating the importance of the ball and also understanding within our concepts,” Chaney said.
Guarantano opened and finished last season as Tennessee’s starter, while surrendering the job during the middle of the season.
Maurer spent most of the season as the backup, and he also started four games. Shrout also earned a start, and wide receiver Jauan Jennings, now in the NFL, started one game as a quarterback in the wildcat formation.
Bailey, Tennessee’s highest-rated quarterback signee since Guarantano in 2016, participated in a preseason practice for the first time on Tuesday. He sat out last week because of COVID-19 protocols. Bailey’s father, Orvel, told The Athletic that his son did not test positive for COVID-19 but had to quarantine because of a high-risk contact.
“It’s obvious, some of the concepts he has a grasp on, he plays fast and makes good decisions,” Chaney said of Bailey. “Other ones that he’s a little confused on, he plays a little slower.”
Shrout is the wild card in the backup competition. He spent most of last season as the third-string option, but he has a strong arm, and Chaney said Shrout has grown his understanding of offensive concepts.
Blake Toppmeyer covers University of Tennessee football. Email him at [email protected] 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.