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Tennessee Football: A Quarterback Problem

Imagine the 2021 college football season is here. As Tennessee runs out onto the field at Neyland Stadium for the first time with their hopes set on eradicating any thoughts of the 2020 year, who leads that team?

Fans clamored for most of the season for Jeremy Pruitt to trot out freshman Harrison Bailey at the quarterback position. Much to the chagrin of most, Jarrett Guarantano consistently ran out. Towards the end of the year, Bailey started to get more reps, but he was still splitting time with JT Shrout, who promptly entered the transfer portal at the conclusion of the season.

Some have claimed coaching malpractice by Pruitt for not getting Bailey into games more frequently. Now, Tennessee has Kaidon Salter on his way to Rocky Top, presumably to set up some type of competition between the two. While it’s known that Bailey needed more reps to be the quarterback of the future, what is the staff to do regarding the Bailey v. Salter dilemma?

Firstly, this is a good problem to have, assuming both quarterbacks are up to speed on what the program needs to be competitive — and if they can both produce. A position battle at perhaps the most prominent position in sports might be something good for a team that suffered through a woeful 2020 season. Secondly, it hinges on Salter’s ability out of the gate. He’s ranked 46th in the nation according to 247sports. If he throws well, his ability to move obviously provides extra incentive to put him into games.

While the job is very likely Bailey’s and preseason battles won’t be as big of a part of camp as I might like, how long is too long before giving Salter a more consistent chance, particularly if he shows flashes of competency? — something that’s been lacking on Rocky Top the last decade-plus.

We’ve seen this coaching staff find it difficult to pull the trigger on a new quarterback. We have to wonder whether that’s because they’re not evaluating in a productive way or they just aren’t sure what an adequate leash length looks like; or, more likely, those issues were specific to Guarantano and they simply didn’t want to move away from the fifth year senior for personal reasons more or less unrelated to on-field production: Simply put, he was their guy and they liked him.

It appears to be the case that Bailey will be more competent than Guarantano was, as evidenced by his 2020 production, and so this might not end up being a question at all. But if Bailey struggles in any form or fashion, I’ll be interested in whether or not the staff has learned to possess the ability to understand when to make changes. Of all the problems the staff was exposed to have, personnel “malpractice” might be the one thing I’m most interested in seeing a solution for.