Jeremy Pruitt hasn’t gone through a single game, practice, or drill with Tennessee since becoming head coach. He’s had to rely on talking to his players face-to-face and looking at film to get a sense of what he has on the roster heading into his first spring with the Vols. But the first-time head coach is already making some changes to Tennessee’s roster to try and bring in more competition to a team that’s low on depth at about every position.
The most important position on the field for the Vols is quarterback. And right now, Pruitt says he doesn’t know what he has with his quarterbacks at Tennessee because he hasn’t been able to see any of them firsthand.
“You can’t win in this league without a quarterback, and I’ve been as brutally honest as I can,” Pruitt said per a report from long-time Knoxville reporter Jimmy Hyams. “I don’t know what we have at that position.”
Pruitt and his staff have already made a change to the quarterback position at Tennessee before spring practices have even begun. Stanford grad transfer quarterback Keller Chryst is set to join the Vols after the spring semester wraps up, and he’ll inject a new level of competition at the position in the fall.
What made Chryst stand out to Pruitt among all the other grad transfer quarterbacks they were looking at?
“There’s probably other guys that would like to have come here,” Pruitt stated, “but I would not tell them they would be the starting quarterback. That would be determined on the field.
“Keller was just excited about a chance to compete. That’s all he wanted.”
But Chryst won’t be in Knoxville for the spring. When practices start on March 20th, the Vols will have just two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster. Rising redshirt sophomore Jarrett Guarantano and rising sophomore Will McBride will be the only two scholarship signal callers at Pruitt’s disposal this spring.
Pruitt has yet to see Guarantano on the field as Tennessee’s head coach. But he did get to see him last season as Alabama’s defensive coordinator when the Vols took on the Tide in Tuscaloosa. And he’s been able to see some of his film.
“The kid is tough,” Pruitt said of Guarantano. “He has arm talent. He has good athletic ability. I’ve seen him work hard in the offseason and try to do things the right way. He wants to be the best player he can possibly be. He wants to be coachable. I see him in there watching a lot of tape.”
Quarterback is the top position for any team at any level of football. Without a competent QB, a team can’t hope to reach their full potential. Tennessee saw that firsthand last year. The Vols had a myriad of issues last season, but one of the most glaring ones was lack of good, consistent quarterback play. The Vols finished 13th in the SEC and 109th in the FBS in passing yards per game, and three different starting quarterbacks (Quinten Dormady, Guarantano, McBride) combined to throw for just 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 12 games last season.
Last year marked Tennessee’s worst passing season as a team since the 2013 season, Butch Jones’ first as head coach.
If not for Josh Dobbs, Jones’ career at Tennessee might’ve been cut shorter than it already was. Jones had little to no success with any other quarterback aside from Dobbs while at Tennessee. So what is it that Pruitt is looking for in his Tennessee quarterbacks? He says he doesn’t care if they’re a dual-threat or a pro-style QB. All that matters is that they help the offense play as a team.
“I think the big thing about quarterback is when the possession is over with, make sure you’re kicking the football, whether it’s for extra point or a punt,” Pruitt said. “I don’t think it matters about athletic ability or arm strength. I think it matters about how you can get the other 10 guys on the team to play at the highest level and to play as a team.
“I think that’s the most important thing with a quarterback.”
Does Pruitt have anyone at the position who can do that in his first year as Tennessee’s head coach? He’ll find out soon enough.