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Tennessee Football Spring Preview: Quarterbacks

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A look at the signal callers

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 02 Taxslayer Gator Bowl - Indiana v Tennessee Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Stability. It’s been four years since that word could accurately be used to describe the quarterback situation at the University of Tennessee. Back then Joshua Dobbs, when he wasn’t launching rockets into outer space, was launching touchdowns into the checkerboards. And when he wasn’t launching them, he was running for them. Since 2016, though, the quarterback position — and many of the pieces around it — has been in flux.

Fortunately, as we head into year three of the Jeremy Pruitt era the turbulent waters seem to have calmed somewhat around this crucial position. Jim Chaney returns as play-caller, marking the first time since the aforementioned 2016 season that Tennessee has retained it’s offensive coordinator from one season to the next. Further, Tennessee returns four quarterbacks from the previous year’s roster, all with notable playing experience. Joining that group will be two exceptionally talented yet stylistically dissimilar freshmen who hope to push for playing time.

Here is who the Vols will have at quarterback heading into the important 2020 season.

Returning Players

Jarrett Guarantano

2019 Stats: 152-257 / 59.1% completion / 2,158-yards passing / 16 TD’s / 8 INT’s / 54-yards rushing / 0 rushing TD’s

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 02 Taxslayer Gator Bowl - Indiana v Tennessee Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

‘Unfinished business.’ Those are the words Guarantano used to announce his return to Tennessee for his senior season, and they’re certainly fitting. I think even he would admit that his career to this point has left much to be desired from a production standpoint. But, he hasn’t exactly had a fair shake with the coaching turnover he’s faced. Many will claim that the Vols already know what Guarantano will give them at the position, but in my opinion this is unfair. He’s faced turnover across the coaching staff. He’s faced turnover across the offensive line. He’s faced turnover with offensive scheme. Taking on all of that is no easy task, particularly in college football’s toughest league, and absolutely not a model for success.

The maddening part of Jarrett’s game to this point is that he generally has done well with the aspects of quarterbacking that go unnoticed to the common fan — things like pre-snap adjustments and cadence with the snap count. The problem has been that when he does make a mistake it has been simply catastrophic. Just mentioning the word ‘Florida’ at this point will evoke memories of the ball sailing over a streaking Dominick Wood-Anderson, or an interception thrown right into the chest of a defensive back. There is reason to believe, with some continuity at offensive line and offensive coordinator, that Jarrett can eliminate the costly mistakes. This, along with improved timing in the passing game, would go a very long way to achieving the level of quarterback play that is expected on Rocky Top.

Brian Maurer

2019 Stats: 35-75 / 46.7% completion / 541-yards passing / 2 TD’s / 5 INT’s / 56-yards rushing / 2 rushing TD’s

Tennessee v Alabama Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Maurer was a spark in limited action last year. Who could forget his first touchdown, a 73-yard sluggo to Marquez Callaway against Georgia? Maurer was comfortable from the shotgun in the RPO-game, and often helped propel a stagnant Volunteer offense. However, he was also reckless. Too often he put the ball, and his body, in harm’s way. Protecting the football is critical to play for Jeremy Pruitt, and staying healthy is critical for playing in general. Maurer proved he has what it takes to compete for the starting job, and it’s clear where he needs to improve to take over full-time.

J.T. Shrout

2019 Stats: 13-27 / 48.1% completion / 179-yards passing / 1 TD’s / 0 INT’s / 4-yards rushing / 0 rushing TD’s

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 02 UAB at Tennessee Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Of all of the quarterbacks on Tennessee’s roster last season, Shrout may have had the best arm of the bunch. A perfect example is his 55-yard cannon to Marquez Callaway off of play-action against South Carolina. Arm talent is no issue for the ultra-cool California teenager (I’ve never met him, I’m just assuming like all California teenagers he’s cool). Shrout’s issues are mainly operational. Can he get the offense in and out of the huddle on time? Can he make the appropriate checks at the line of scrimmage? A second consecutive year in the same offensive system should benefit all of the returning quarterbacks, perhaps Shrout most of all.

Kasim Hill

2018 Stats (at University of Maryland): 84-170 / 49.4% completion / 1,083-yards passing / 9 TD’s / 4 INT’s / -15-yards rushing / 0 rushing TD’s

Maryland v Indiana Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Maryland opened up the 2017 season at Texas. When starting quarterback Tyrell Pigrome was knocked out of the game with an injury, Hill was thrust into the spotlight. Hill was serviceable in the remainder of that in Austin, completing all three of his passes for 44-yards and adding a score on the ground. The Terps were able to hang on for an upset win that day. Unfortunately, Hill only managed to hang on to the starting spot for two more games before being sidelined for the year with a torn right ACL. He returned in 2018, and again beat Texas to open the season.

Despite this promising start Hill struggled with accuracy throughout the season, and was again sidelined, this time with a torn left ACL. Hill rehabbed from his most recent injury, and transferred to Tennessee quietly in late August of 2019. With Hill there are glaring injury and accuracy concerns. However, the former 4-star recruit has considerable playing experience in a Power-5 conference. It’s unclear how Hill’s injury history may affect his athletic performance, but he already has one season of learning Tennessee’s system under his belt.

Incoming Players

Harrison Bailey

2019 Stats (at Marietta High School, 16 games played): 287-411 / 69.8% completion / 4674-yards passing / 50 TD’s / 10 INT’s / 76-yards rushing / 3 rushing TD’s

As we get ready to kick off spring practice Harrison Bailey is practically a household name already. The five-star quarterback — according to Rivals, 4-star according to other sources — certainly looks the part at 6’5” and 211-pounds. Bailey broke all sorts of records over his high school career, which culminated in a dominant state championship victory, the first for his high school since 1967. He showcased a strong arm and impressive pocket mobility against rigorous competition in suburban Atlanta.

Bailey elected to enroll early at the University of Tennessee, meaning he’ll be ready to compete for the starting job right away with spring practice. Although some have already dubbed him the second-coming of Peyton Manning it is far too early to declare how Bailey will perform. In the limited film available he certainly demonstrates the aforementioned attributes of arm strength and mobility. But, he has gotten away with some throws that might not be available at the Division-1 level, and I think it’s fair to say his mechanics while on the run need refining.

Jimmy Holiday

2019 Stats (at Madison Central High School, 11 games played): 94-148 / 63.5% completion / 1020-yards passing / 9 TD’s / 4 INT’s / 1401-yards rushing / 21 rushing TD’s

Jimmy Holiday is an incredibly intriguing prospect. As a three-star recruit he didn’t get nearly as much hype as his classmate Bailey. Many schools recruited him as an athlete, but Tennessee diligently pursued Holiday as a quarterback. Holiday is a smooth and gifted runner who, at 190-pounds, isn’t afraid to run in-between the tackles.

Some have speculated that Holiday could quickly see time in the Tennessee offense as a replacement for Jauan Jennings in the ‘Wildcat’ package. While this is a definite possibility, it’s important not to reduce Holiday to simply a runner. There is a reason he’s listed as a dual-threat, and his over 1,000-yards through the air last season prove he has earned that distinction. He’s shown nice touch on deep balls and while on the run.

Holiday, like Bailey, is an early enrollee and can therefore begin picking up the offense right away. He might require more polishing in the passing game than others, but he also brings a dimension that no other quarterback on the roster brings to the position. Expect to see Holiday in the mix, and don’t be surprised to see him throughout the season in certain circumstances.

Bottom Line

A strong competition for the starting quarterback job should elevate the level of performance at the position. It may be difficult to evenly distribute reps between each quarterback, but that isn’t necessarily a problem. The quarterback that ultimately wins the job will protect the football, operate the huddle and at the line of scrimmage effectively, and make accurate throws. Tennessee desperately needs to get the most out of this position, and the staff is sure to take their time in determining who is the best man to lead the Orange & White offense.