One of the most important and unsettled positions on the Tennessee roster is the backup quarterback position. Jarrett Guarantano enters his fifth season as the clear-cut starter, but the Volunteers have options behind him.
There was some thought entering the spring that Harrison Bailey could challenge for at least the backup gig, but then the COVID-19 pandemic happened. That has hindered the true freshman’s progress, shifting Brian Maurer and J.T. Shrout back to being favorites to be the first quarterback off the bench.
Both saw action last season, but Maurer did play quite a bit more. As a true freshman, Maurer ended up starting games against Georgia, Mississippi State and Alabama. But two concussions derailed his season, forcing Guarantano back into action.
The most interesting game of that stretch came against South Carolina, where Tennessee’s aerial attack came to life. Each of the three quarterbacks played, and each of the three torched the Gamecock defense. It was our first true look at Shrout, who entered the game and promptly delivered a 55 yard strike for a touchdown.
“J.T. can make all the throws,” quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke said this week. “He throws it as good as a lot of guys I’ve been around. I think his familiarity with the offense is allowing him to operate at a much faster pace right now.”
Shrout signed with Tennessee in Jeremy Pruitt’s first class. He was a three-star pocket passer out of California, a guy that former offensive coordinator Tyson Helton quickly identified as a target for the Vols. Jim Chaney is now running the show, entering year two of this stint in Knoxville. Now each remaining passer has had a year in the system, which should start to pay dividends this fall.
“J.T. is a guy that works his tail off,” Weinke continued. “He studies the game. He spends extra time in here watching film. It’s important to him and that’s evident. You see that every day from this young man.”
It’s been difficult to get a pulse of camp without any media presence, but there does seem to be some amount of momentum surrounding Shrout to this point. Will that be enough for him to earn the QB2 role this year? Jim Chaney wouldn’t answer that question two weeks ago, and Weinke wouldn’t either this week.
“We’re too early on to say where they fall in the pecking order,” Weinke said. “It’s a process that’s taking place currently and I can’t put my finger on a date necessarily that we’re going to decide who’s the guy.”
The good news is that Tennessee’s quarterback room is as deep as it’s been in a long time. We know Pruitt isn’t scared to mix things up or throw someone new into the fire, so whoever wins the backup quarterback role might just end up seeing the field sooner rather than later.