Looking around the rest of the SEC East, Tennessee currently has a huge edge at quarterback within the division. Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, South Carolina and Vanderbilt are all letting multiple players compete for the starting job in 2015, while Missouri's Maty Mauk seemed to regress in 2014 leaving some local Missouri reporters to wonder if hyped recruit Drew Lock, who isn't even on campus yet, could take his job in the fall.
Yes the offense is in good hands with Joshua Dobbs this season. But what happens if Dobbs goes down, even for a series or two? For a team with high aspirations, putting in a true freshman with no experience is a real cause for concern. But just because some freshmen don't look so good thrown in the game before they're ready, Justin Worley in 2011, some can handle the job being thrust upon them early in their career, Tyler Bray in 2010
After only five practices, it's too early to call the backup competition over, especially with Sheriron Jones arriving over the summer, but here's how the freshmen have looked so far.
I've written about my high expectations for Jennings in the past, but so far in camp the edge appears to be with Dormady. While Mike DeBord is quick to praise Jennings for his athleticism and running ability, he admits his passing game needs work in order to play quarterback at the collegiate level. DeBord has tasked GA Nick Sheridan with the duty of reworking Jennings' fundamentals and technique. DeBord also added that the two are starting "from ground zero" in order to "build his knowledge and his mentality (of the quarterback position)."
DeBord's relationship with Sheridan goes all the way back to their Michigan days together, where Sheridan was a player under DeBord's coaching. It's reassuring to know the offensive staff has had so much time together and literally learned the offense and terminology under one another that they now pass on to the current Tennessee players. This continuity should ensure the proper teaching are passed on from coach to player without any misinterpretations or confusion that could ultimately slow the learning curve.
While Jennings may prove to be a work in progress at quarterback, it would be foolish to write him off as an athlete destined to play another position with the Vols. The development he showed from his junior (his first year ever playing the position) to his senior season in high school was phenomenal. During that time, he essentially went from a lead tailback/wildcat specialist to a Joshua Dobbs South Carolina-level player his senior season. With continued coaching and the drive he has shown in the past, as well as in his short time in Knoxville, he very well could be the next starter after Dobbs leaves the program. Keep in mind, if Dobbs stays for his senior season, by the time the job becomes available again, Jennings would potentially have gone through three spring practices learning the offense. More than enough time, considering Dobbs has only been through two at this point of his career, for the coaches to become comfortable with his game.
The surprise star of the spring thus far, Dormady has shown the arm talent you'd come to expect from a four-star recruit with offers from Alabama, TCU and Oklahoma State among others. It's amazing to think that Dormady was unable to throw the ball for the first month while on campus, as he was still recovering from shoulder surgery upon his arrival.
Butch Jones has had some very high praise of Dormady's performance thus far in the spring "Been very, very encouraged by Quinten. I see him making tremendous progress each and everyday. As a coach we have to keep in perspective that he should still be in high school. Each day you see him getting better and better."
As Butch points out, these two players should both still be in high school but are instead running through the guanlet of learning a new playbook, scheme, coaches and players while also going up against what may turn out to be the one of the best defenses in the SEC, if not the country, next season. The learning curve will be steep and while facing unique challenges, how will they freshmen respond?
For instance, recently in practice, Dormady threw the ball away when presented with tight coverage in the redzone. Butch and DeBord both praised him for his decision making, as taking the three points is always prefered to a crushing redzone interception. However, after the play, Pig Howard implored Dormady to at least give him an opportunity on plays like that. Throwing the ball away gives the receiver no chance, where as now Dormady has the advantage of playing with several NFL caliber recievers. Giving them a shot at making a play, without risking a turnover, will be a fine line Dormady has to learn to succeed at this level.
One thing that's sure to bring smiles to Vol fans, Dormady hooked up with Josh Malone for a touchdown on a deep ball with one-on-one coverage on Tuesday. Fans have been understandbly upset with the lack of down the field throws last season. Whether that was on Mike Bajakian, the young offensive line, Dobbs, the injuries to the receivers, or possibly a combination of all of the above, the team is clearly working on that aspect of the offense in the spring. If Dormady does get some unexpected playing time this fall, one would assume opposing defenses to dare the Vols to throw it deep. It appears they have confidence in Dormady to do just that.
Regardless of which player wins the job, the future of Tennessee under the center appears to be bright for the forseeable future with these two players involved in the mix. Don't completey count out Sheriron Jones on winning the job either. At this point a year ago, no one was even mentioning Derek Barnett's name, but he came in over the summer and earned his starting spot and is now viewed as possibly the Volunteers best overall player. That transition would appear to be much more difficult to make for a quarterback, but anything can happen when players with this much talent run out of the T together.