Naming a starting quarterback isn’t an easy business for a head football coach. Giving the reigns over to the wrong quarterback can not only set a team back for a game or two, but it can cause a game of musical chairs to ensue and ruin the chemistry for the entire season.
The Vols have been on both sides of this coin. The 2004 season saw two freshmen quarterbacks split time at first, but then the starting job was handed over exclusively to freshman Erik Ainge before an injury cut his first year as a Vol short. Tennessee would finish 10-3 that year. The following season, however, saw a quarterback competition end with a questionable decision to start the season, and the Vols ultimately stumbled to a 5-6 record in 2005.
Butch Jones even has experience with this while at Tennessee.
Jones had a quarterback competition in both of his first two seasons as the Vols’ head coach. In 2013, Jones ultimately chose Justin Worley but flipped to Nathan Peterman when the Vols went on the road to Florida. Worley would take back over the following week, but an injury in the Alabama game saw Josh Dobbs take over as a true freshman for the rest of the way. The Vols would finish 5-7 that season.
The following season, Jones had to decide on a quarterback again. Jones ended up choosing Worley again, and Worley again got injured in the middle of the season. Nathan Peterman started against Alabama, but Dobbs would again come in during the game and would retain the staring job for the rest of the season. Dobbs would help lead the Vols to their first bowl appearance since 2011 that season.
Dobbs was a stabilizing force for the Vols’ quarterback position for his last two years on campus. Now that Dobbs has graduated, Jones has to make a decision on a quarterback yet again. And he’s in no rush to do so.
“No time table has been set on a starting quarterback or any starting position,” Jones said at his pre-spring practice press conference on Monday. “They have to earn that right and they earn that right on the field and off the field and in meetings.”
Jones would go on to note that he will value consistency and leadership the most when it comes to naming the Vols’ next starting quarterback.
“I would say the big thing is going to be consistency day in and day out and competing,” Jones stated. “From a quarterback perspective, it comes down to consistency. Consistency and performance every single day. You can never be too high or too low.
“Individuals who can manage our offense and get us in the appropriate plays, leadership that is associated with playing the quarterback position.”
It’s fine for Jones to want to take his time and be comfortable with whomever he names as Tennessee’s starting quarterback for the 2017 season opener. Deciding a quarterback competition is a crucial decision. But it’s better for the team if Jones names a starting quarterback sooner rather than later.
Jones doesn’t necessarily need to choose a starting quarterback during spring practices. But if one of the two main quarterbacks, either junior Quinten Dormady or redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano, separates very clearly from the pack, then yes, Jones should declare one the winner in spring. But unless that happens, waiting till the fall is acceptable. As long as one is named early in the fall.
The reason the Vols need a starting quarterback named earlier rather than later is because of team chemistry. Every Vol fan who watched even a single quarter of play last season knows that chemistry was an issue throughout the team last year. One way or another, bad team chemistry was a problem that reared its ugly head several times last season. The Vols cannot afford for that to happen again this year, especially from the most important position on the field.
Naming a starting quarterback sooner benefits not only the quarterback, but the offensive line, wide receivers, and running backs as well. The starting quarterback needs to build a rapport with his receivers, the offensive line needs to get used to his tendencies in order to block for him better, and running backs need to develop a rhythm on hand-offs, pass block reads, and pass catching routes.
No matter which quarterback Butch Jones ultimately chooses, he needs to do so early in fall camp at the latest. It’s important for both his job and the chemistry of the team that a quarterback is named sooner rather than later.