Finally, Tennessee fans have reason for optimism under center.
Since Josh Dobbs exited the program following the 2016 season, things have been grim at the quarterback spot for Tennessee. Jeremy Pruitt was never able to find a better option than Jarrett Guarantano, creating a strange and unhealthy relationship where the two just couldn’t really quit each other. Now with Guarantano out of the picture and a legitimate quarterback developer as the head coach, there’s reason to believe that the Volunteers will actually solve this issue for the first time in a long time.
What’s left at Quarterback?
- Harrison Bailey, Freshman
- Hendon Hooker, Redshirt Junior
- Brian Maurer, Sophomore
- Kaidon Salter, Incoming Freshman
Heupel won’t be short on options — or skill-sets for that matter.
Former elite prospect Harrison Bailey returns following a couple of starts to end the season. The prototypical pocket passer executed a conservative gameplan to end the 2020 season, simply getting his feet wet as a freshman. Bailey saw action in six games, completing 48 of 68 attempts for 578 yards. He threw four touchdowns against two interceptions, both of which came in desperation time against Arkansas late.
Complicating matters for Bailey is Hendon Hooker, who transfers in as a multi-year starter from Virginia Tech. Hooker is going to bring legitimate mobility to the position, which could offer Heupel a chance to run a completely different attack than he could with Bailey. Hooker is a career 1,000 yard rusher, while also totaling nearly 3,000 yards passing over the last two seasons. The 6-4, 220 pound quarterback easily offers the most experience on the depth chart.
Brian Maurer is the guy that everyone has seemingly already counted out. The sophomore quarterback didn’t play much at all in 2020 after starting a few games as a true freshman in 2019. Maurer gave the Tennessee offense and instant shot of energy, but his loose and aggressive approach created plenty of turnovers. Without seeing much of him last season, it’s going to be interesting to see what he brings to the table during the spring install of Heupel’s offense.
Finally, Kaidon Salter will enter the picture as a 2021 signee, sticking with his commitment to Tennessee through the coaching change. Salter is a top 100 prospect, filled with physical tools and ready to enter this race. With everyone starting from ground zero, Salter should get his fair shake in the battle. The 6-1 freshman will bring a live arm capable of pushing the ball down the field, along some mobility. Salter has already enrolled at Tennessee and will be able to go through spring practice sessions.
We’ve seen some quarterback battles play out over the last several years, but none have felt this wide open. It’s sure to narrow down through the weeks of spring practice, but everyone is starting on equal ground here as the new staff starts to figure out what they have. If you were to handicap this race, the favorite would have to be Bailey or Hooker, but it’s going to come down to how quickly each guy can find comfort in Heupel’s system.
Who starts against Bowling Green to open 2021?
This poll is closed