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Harrison Bailey playing catch-up and trying to ‘learn the language’ of the Tennessee offense

NCAA Football: Tennessee at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

For a guy that did everything the right way and tried to get a step ahead, Harrison Bailey remains behind. It’s not his fault though. The rug was pulled out from under him in the spring, just two practices in after the COVID-19 outbreak. As it turns out, those practices were never able to be made up.

We then entered fall camp with Bailey in quarantine due to exposure to the virus. After missing a week of practice, Bailey has finally settled into a groove.

Quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke discussed the start to Bailey’s Tennessee career on Thursday.

“He did miss a little bit of time and that always hurts for a guy that was able to come in early and not be able to go through spring ball,” Weinke said. “It hurts you a little bit in terms of your growth and development. I think the biggest thing for him is he’s learning a new language.”

A big benefit of arriving in the spring was being able to dive into Jim Chaney’s playbook, which was something that he was able to do without reps. However, missing that live action certainly put a lid on any expectations that Bailey could come in a compete for the starting job as a freshman.

Now it’s about getting comfortable and preparing just in case his number is called this fall.

“We always say that — hey, when you’re not sure, you’re going to probably play a little bit slower,” Weinke said. “I think the biggest thing for him is to continue to progress, continue to learn the system. He can make all of the throws. There’s no doubt about it.”

Bailey was a five-star quarterback prospect, according to Rivals. He was the 99th ranked player in the 247Sports Composite rankings — the third ranked pocket passer in the class. Bailey enters the mix behind Jarrett Guarantano, J.T. Shrout and Brian Maurer, each of whom saw time under center in 2019.

Expectations are now non-existent for Bailey in 2020, but he will be expected to be a major player for the starting job entering next season. Next year’s battle starts right now, and Weinke is looking for Bailey to establish some consistency.

“We have to create that consistency with every play in our playbook,” Weinke added. “And I think you’ll see that growth continue as he gets more comfortable and he gets more reps.”