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Jim Chaney on backup QB battle: ‘Everything is up in the air’

No answers just yet.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 26 South Carolina at Tennessee Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Thanks to a global pandemic, any talk of a potential battle for the starting quarterback spot in Knoxville has virtually been squashed. Jarrett Guarantano, a fifth-year senior now, is the clear leader of the Tennessee offense despite a bumpy 2019. To his credit though, Guarantano was able to put a lot of those bad moments behind him down the stretch last season, becoming the clear best option for the Volunteers.

It’s obvious that Tennessee will start there at the quarterback position, but as we’ve seen in the past, Jeremy Pruitt isn’t shy about trying something different if a player isn’t performing. But who would be that first passer off the bench? The backup quarterback role is a race that seems wide open.

Brian Maurer, J.T. Shrout and Harrison Bailey are your contenders, and Tennessee offensive coordinator Jim Chaney wouldn’t offer much intel when asked about the situation on Thursday.

“Right now everybody’s playing football,” Chaney said. “Equal reps across the board. J.T., Brian, also Harrison, everyone is getting as many reps as they can. Everything is up in the air, we’re way too early to make decisions on that.”

Maurer won the backup role last year, even starting a few games for Tennessee mid-season. Though he provided a spark, his progress was quickly hindered by back to back concussions, which forced Guarantano back into his starting role. Shrout remains largely an unknown at this point, but he did have a nice showing in limited time against South Carolina last season.

For Bailey, he missed the chance to go through a spring’s worth of reps after the spring period was canceled. His progress was further paused after missing the first week of practice and being forced to quarantine. Bailey returned to practice this week.

“They’ve got to be put under fire,” Chaney continued. “We’ve got to see how they’re going to react when things happen like that. They’ll earn that two spot and that three spot and that four spot. Unfortunately that’s life, someone is going to get a little better than the other one.”

With such a strange offseason, it’s nice to have a veteran presence under center to start the year. Obviously Guarantano has his shortcomings, but this will also be his first ever season with a returning offensive coordinator. Now without Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway, Tennessee needs him to offer some consistency and leadership.

As for what’s behind him — that appears to be wide open. The Volunteers have a little under a month to figure it out, with the opener set for September 26th at South Carolina.