Tennessee’s quarterback position can be divided into three categories.
There’s Jarrett Guarantano, the battered-but-still-standing veteran who leads the group. There’s Harrison Bailey, the ballyhooed freshman. And there’s Brian Maurer and J.T. Shrout, the jury’s-still-out-on-them sophomores who flashed potential last season but without consistency.
Bailey, Maurer and Shrout are vying to be Guarantano’s backup.
Maurer has been slowed by a hamstring injury and “hasn’t been able to operate in all of our team periods” in recent practices, quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke said during a Zoom interview Wednesday.
Where Maurer fits into the quarterback competition remains unsettled. He replaced Guarantano as starter midway through last season and brought the team a spark. But he suffered concussions in back-to-back games, and he started just once during Tennessee’s six-game winning streak to finish the season, as Guarantano reclaimed the job and helped power the Vols.
“I think Brian is another example of a guy that probably as a young guy last year didn’t know exactly every detail of what we’re trying to get accomplished, but continued to learn,” Weinke said. “He’s very talented. There’s no doubt. He brings a lot to the table from that standpoint. I think he’s grown up, and he’s matured.
“I think that’s a big part of becoming a professional, right? We preach about that every single day, how to be a pro, how to learn, how to study what’s important. I think you’re seeing that in Brian Maurer.”
Making smart choices with the ball became a problem for Maurer as a freshman. Maurer has the most running ability of any Tennessee quarterback and a strong arm, but he was intercepted five times on just 75 passing attempts and completed 46.7% of his passes.
“He’s got as much talent as a lot of guys I’ve ever been around — the ability to throw the football from different platforms, be able to run the football,” Weinke said. “We just have to create some consistency with him, and that’s with all of them, but I think especially Brian.”
Weinke, like offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, said Shrout has found comfort entering his second season in Chaney’s offense.
“J.T. is a guy that works his tail off,” Weinke said. “This guy, he studies the game. He spends extra time in here watching film. It’s important to him, and that’s evident.”
“J.T. Shrout is very conscious of every move that he makes, and sometimes when you get to be too careful, you start to overthink. I think he needs to continue to trust himself.”
Like Maurer, arm strength isn’t an issue for Shrout, who completed 7 of 11 passes in a win over South Carolina.
“J.T. can make all the throws,” Weinke said. “He throws it as good as a lot of guys I’ve been around. I think his familiarity now with the offense is allowing him to operate at a much faster pace right now. We have to eliminate the mistakes, and that goes for all the quarterbacks.”
Entering last season, Guarantano was Tennessee’s only quarterback with experience in a college game. Now, the 25-game starter remains the Vols’ top option, but having a pair of sophomores with starting experience and a four-star freshman gives Tennessee its best situation at quarterback in several years.
“There’s nothing better than good competition, so I’m excited about that,” Weinke said.
Blake Toppmeyer covers University of Tennessee football. Email him at email@example.com 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.