Josh Heupel has finalized his offensive staff in Knoxville, set to transform that side of the ball into his fast-paced, spread-iso attack. The system has been compared to the old Baylor offense, designed to spread a defense out and take advantage of numbers — either on the perimeter or in the run game. However it looks, it will be a big departure from the typical old-fashioned looks that Jim Chaney brought to the table.
Helping Heupel’s offense go will be offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Alex Golesh. The 36 year old assistant will not call plays, but will be heavily involved in the game-planning with Heupel. The first order of business for Heupel, Golesh and quarterbacks coach Joey Halzle to figure out is who to play at quarterback. Tennessee isn’t short on options, and they all bring something different to the table.
Golesh talked briefly about his initial impressions of the quarterback room on Wednesday, along with how they plan on bringing the group up to speed.
“There’s guys here who have played,” Golesh said in his introductory press conference. “You’ve got Hendon (Hooker) who played at Virginia Tech a considerable amount. It’s going to be about force-feeding it and seeing about who can handle it from a mental aspect. I think the way the offense is built, you don’t have to say that it has to be an ultra-mobile quarterback. You don’t have to say it has to be a pocket passer. So much of this offense revolves around the quarterback — being able to manage it, being able to operate within the system. It happens really fast. You’ve got to be able to process information quickly, you’ve got to be able to read defensive looks quickly. So at the quarterback position particularly, who can grasp it the quickest, who can operate within the system, and who can excel within the system.”
Hooker brings a veteran arm to the room after starting several games over the last two seasons for the Hokies. He will battle things out with Harrison Bailey, who started the final few games for Tennessee down the stretch of the 2020 season. Bailey will be getting his second shot at a freshman season, and will be joined by Kaidon Salter, an incoming top 100 prospect who offers plenty of physical tools to work with. Sophomore Brian Maurer finishes the quarterback room, looking to re-enter the picture after falling out of the battle in 2020.
This battle feels wide open, with each man starting from scratch in the offense. Work on that said battle has already begun for the offensive staff, beginning with research ahead of spring ball.
“When I say we’ve investigated that room specifically, going back and watching film here, going back and watching high school film, talking to high school coaches, talking to college coaches in Hendon’s case, and really trying to have an idea of what guys are capable of both from a mental aspect and physical aspect,” Golesh said. “And then growing within our system to see how guys can handle it. Even Salter coming in, what is he capable of? That whole room, those guys are so uniquely different, I think you’re going to try to find the guy that can do the best job of operating within the system. At the end of the day, it’s who can create plays, who can not turn the ball over and who can continue to get us positive yardage. If it’s with their feet, great, with their arm, awesome.”
Heupel’s track record with quarterbacks is exciting, and he’s done it a few different ways in the past. There are plenty of unknowns with this new staff coming in, but developing quarterbacks and scoring points is what they do. That alone is a needed changeup for the Tennessee football program.
So who will be taking the first snap this fall? That remains a mystery, both to us and the new staff. From the spring through the summer to fall camp, they’ve got plenty of time to find an answer to that question.
“I don’t think we have that answer — I know we don’t have that answer right now,” Golesh said of the quarterback battle. “And I don’t think we’ll have that answer at the end of spring. This is going to be, at that position specifically, a six month process.”
Tennessee is set to open with Bowling Green on Saturday, September 4th.