New RTI contributor Robert Hughes contributed to this article.
Throughout the first three days of spring practice, Tennessee head football coach Jeremy Pruitt has been complimentary of his team’s offense — especially of his rising redshirt junior quarterback Jarrett Guarantano.
“[Guarantano] knows how to prepare. I think it’s been really positive,” Pruitt said after practice this week. “That’s how the quarterback position should be.”
This spring marks the first time in Guarantano’s Tennessee career that he’s not behind a proven starter or embroiled in a full-on battle for the starting quarterback job. There’s certainly competition behind him, but Guarantano is clearly the front-runner at QB and is the top signal caller for UT’s offense.
Guarantano is entering his fourth year at Tennessee, and he’s seen a lot in his time at UT. The key to Guarantano’s success in practice thus far, Pruitt says, is that experience — something he notes that Tennessee’s defense lacks.
“[Guarantano]’s played a lot of ball. He’s taken a lot of hits,” Pruitt added. “I think we all understand that really doesn’t bother him.”
Last season, Guarantano was sacked 22 times and was hit many more times than that. Tennessee fans have been critical of Guarantano’s decision-making during his first two seasons, but, according to Pruitt, Guarantano has worked to improve that area of his game in the offseason.
“I think the game has really slowed down for Jarrett,” Pruitt said.
Part of that adjustment is likely because of the addition of Jim Chaney as Tennessee’s offensive coordinator. Chaney has built up a reputation as being a quarterback guru, and the stats back that up. He’s helped improve the collegiate careers of quarterbacks like Drew Brees, Jonathan Crompton, Brandon Allen, and Nathan Peterman among a list of others.
That’s not the only help that Guarantano has gotten, though.
With Tennessee’s coaching staff landing a handful of big-name recruits on the offensive line, including early enrollees Wanya Morris and Chris Akporoghene, fans are hopeful that Guarantano can improve his game against some of the SEC’s speedy pass-rushers.
Last season, Guarantano flashed his potential in games against Auburn, Kentucky, and South Carolina, but he also struggled down the stretch. He finished his redshirt sophomore season throwing for 1,907 yards, 12 touchdowns, and just three interceptions while completing 62.2 percent of his 246 pass attempts. Those are solid numbers, but improvement is needed from him in his redshirt junior season if the Vols’ offense is to truly take off.
If Pruitt’s comments in just three days of spring practice are any indication, that’s exactly what he expects his quarterback to do.