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Heupel discusses Harrison Bailey’s decision to enter transfer portal

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Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel Calvin Mattheis/News Sentinel via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Things change quickly in today’s college football climate, don’t they? Harrison Bailey was viewed as the future just a handful of months ago for Tennessee, and now he sits in the transfer portal. Sitting third on the depth chart and with no real clear path to playing time next year either, Bailey decided to explore his options.

It wasn’t all that surprising. It’s what happens now with the players having more power than ever before. They’re not going to spend their four years of eligibility willingly sitting on the bench — not in most cases, at least.

The move leaves Tennessee with just two scholarship quarterbacks for the rest of the season. The Volunteers have three walk-on options after that.

On Monday, head coach Josh Heupel addressed Bailey’s decision, admitting that the timing of the move was less than ideal.

“Yeah, Harrison’s been a really good teammate inside of our program from the time that I’ve gotten in here,” Heupel said. “In some ways, disappointed at the timing of when he makes that decision. It’s a different era in college athletics with the transfer portal over the last couple of years. Because of who he is and what he has been about, I love both the person and the player. I wish him a ton of success as he moves on.”

That’s a pretty good and honest answer from Heupel, who took the high road while still admitting some frustration. Coaches are facing new challenges now with roster constructions, particularly at the quarterback position. It’s tough to keep depth around, particularly highly-rated talent.

Tennessee was never going to keep all five scholarship quarterbacks around this year, that’s just how it goes. Kaidon Salter left the new staff no choice, while Brian Maurer exited after landing fourth on the depth chart. Bailey could have stuck around and fought it out again in the spring, but with Hendon Hooker having potentially a year left, Joe Milton having potentially two years left, along with the entry of 2022 prospect Tayven Jackson, it was an uphill climb.

Hooker has actually generated some NFL buzz lately, so his decision to stay or go sets up to be a big one after the season.

The good news? The transfer portal works both ways, and Heupel has a pretty easy sell to add a veteran quarterback if he needs to do so. The old days of signing a quarterback to groom are probably done, at least in most cases.

The ‘free agency’ era is here, and considering how thin this roster is across the board, expect Tennessee to be big players in the portal this offseason.