Seniors: Keller Chryst
Sophomores: Jarrett Guarantano, Will McBride
Freshmen: J.T. Shrout
Our fall camp position preview series continues. Our previous installment looked at Tennessee’s running backs. Now we take a look at the Vols’ quarterbacks prior to the 2018 season.
It’s time to take a look at the most talked about unit on Tennessee’s entire roster: Their quarterbacks.
For the second straight year heading into fall camp, the Vols have a quarterback battle on their hands. And for the second straight year, Jarrett Guarantano is part of that battle. But his competition is a little more intense this year than it was last fall.
Stanford grad transfer Keller Chryst will be Guarantano’s main competition for the starting job this fall. Chryst brings with him an 11-2 record as a starting quarterback in 2016 and 2017 at Stanford, and he had an impressive 3.17 touchdown to interception ratio while quarterbacking The Cardinal offense. Not only that, but Chryst is fairly mobile, running for 164 yards and three touchdowns on 66 carries.
Chryst has experience, a strong arm, and is mobile enough to extend plays and escape trouble. But for all those good qualities, he has plenty of drawbacks as well.
During his time at Stanford, Chryst was inconsistent and failed to make some routine throws. He could make some impressive throws, but he struggled with consistency, hence his 55.4 completion percentage. And only three of his 11 wins as Stanford’s starting quarterback came against teams that finished the season with a winning record.
All in all, there’s more to like than not with Chryst, but how high is his ceiling? He can make some big plays, but he can also miss on some easy passes.
Vol fans saw firsthand how erratic Guarantano was in his first action with the Vols last year. He held the ball too long, made some poor decisions throwing down the field, and didn’t look very mobile despite being the top-rated dual-threat quarterback in the 2016 recruiting class according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. He ultimately finished 1-5 as Tennessee’s starting quarterback and finished with negative rushing yards on the year.
But it certainly wasn’t all bad for Guarantano during his redshirt freshman season.
Guarantano didn’t have it easy when he took over the Vols’ offense. Tennessee’s offensive line was beat up and down several players when he was given the starting job, and he was sacked well over two dozen times and knocked down plenty more times by opposing defenses. He was rattled, harassed, and took a beating.
Yet throughout all that, he kept improving. And he ended up completing 61.9 percent of his 139 pass attempts, tossing four touchdowns and just two interceptions.
Guarantano was in risk-mitigation mode for a lot of 2017, but he has a strong arm and made some good decisions when he didn’t hold the ball too long. He’s added a lot of good weight to his frame and now measures in at 6-foot-4, 209 pounds. He looked better in the spring, and he made quicker throws and looked much more poised.
But that was during the spring when he only had Will McBride as his main competition. How will he look when the pressure gets turned up in the fall?
Tennessee’s quarterback battle is essentially between Chryst and Guarantano, but there’s always the chance one of the Vols’ other two scholarship quarterbacks surprises and makes a real run for the starting job.
Will McBride had his redshirt burned as a true freshman late in the season last year after Guarantano was injured. He made one start against Missouri and looked fairly competent given the circumstances and the patchwork offensive line he had to work behind. But it’s clear that last year should’ve been a redshirt year for him.
This year could be the redshirt year McBride never got last season. As long as injuries don’t decimate the position like they did last year, McBride should never really see the field this season. He’s not an ideal fit for the offense and still needs to bulk up. He has some good arm talent, though, and he’s more mobile than you would expect. He’s quick on his feet and processes things well, but it’s clear Guarantano and Chryst are a little more talented than him.
True freshman J.T. Shrout has a lot of potential as long as he stays healthy. He has an incredibly strong arm and can make some impressive throws. But in all likelihood, this year will serve as a redshirt year for him as he continues to develop and fine tune his technique. He’s capable of making some big plays, but he also made a lot of mistakes in high school. He threw 27 touchdowns his senior year of high school, but he also tossed 25 interceptions.
Shrout has skill, but he shouldn’t be starting for the Vols in 2018 unless things have gone very badly at quarterback.
Tennessee doesn’t have a bonafide starting quarterback heading into fall camp for the second consecutive year. How will Guarantano adjust to UT’s new offense? How will he do with amped up competition? Can Chryst prove he has what it takes to be a competent, full-time starter? Will Chryst’s experience win out over Guarantano’s potential? Will one of the Vols’ other quarterbacks make a real push for the starting job?
These are all questions that will look to be answered during fall camp. And Tennessee’s quarterback battle will, once again, be the biggest storyline of the fall.