Pruitt Impressed with Guarantano’s Growth in Leadership

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    Photo by Anne Newman/RTI

    Talent has never been an issue for Tennessee redshirt junior Jarrett Guarantano.

    Coming out of high school as an elite recruit, Guarantano chose to turn down the likes of Urban Meyer and make his way south from Lodi, New Jersey to the University of Tennessee. With that came high expectations.

    Whether it’s having four offensive coordinators in four years or the play of the offensive line that has resulted in multiple injuries, Guarantano has been dealt a bad hand from the moment he stepped foot on campus. Not to mention the disheartening culture former coach Butch Jones created and the false narratives that were promised.

    One would be hard-pressed to find a quarterback in the country that has had to deal with more than Guarantano over the course of his four years. But now, all of the clutter is in the rearview mirror, and his past experiences have made him not only a better quarterback, but a better leader.

    “The thing that excites me about Jarrett is you can stand out on the field and you can see his arm talent,” Jeremy Pruitt said on Tuesday at SEC Media Days. “You know that he’s a good athlete.

    “The thing that I see that excites me the most is the impact he’s having on his teammates. I think that’s a true mark of a leader, is having a positive impact on the people you’re around. And I see him developing and doing that, and that’s what excites me about him and the future of our program.”

    The leadership aspect of Guarantano’s game has been the biggest area of emphasis this offseason. Not that he was a bad leader before, but in order for Tennessee to overachieve this season, the quarterback needed to take a step forward.

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    “He can change plays at the line of scrimmage, and he can get us in the right protections, but the most important thing is Jarrett has the respect of his teammates and his coaching staff,” Pruitt explained. “And he’s been a fantastic leader for us over the last six months or eight months as we started this offseason and works out about his future.”

    Guarantano’s surroundings are quite different this offseason, particularly his coaches. Last season, it was just Tyson Helton as the offensive coordinator and the quarterbacks coach.

    This year, he’s surrounded by Jim Chaney as the offensive coordinator, Chris Weinke as the quarterbacks coach, and Tee Martin as the passing game coordinator. All three coaches have quite the resume and can help Guarantano improve in different ways.

    Not only does Chaney have an impressive list of quarterbacks he has helped develop, but he’s arguably the best offensive coordinator in the SEC. With Weinke as the quarterbacks coach,  Guarantano can learn from a former Heisman-winning quarterback. And to complete the trifecta, who understands being the quarterback at Tennessee more than Tee Martin?

    Former Vol quarterback Jonathan Crompton, who flourished under Jim Chaney as the Vols’ OC back in 2009, likes that trio of coaches and what they can do for Guarantano as well.

    “Having a Tee (Martin) to be able to lean on and a Chris Weinke to be able to lean on — this staff as a quarterback is the ultimate staff you want to play on in the country right now,” Crompton said in an interview with AtoZ Sports last week. “And I’m not just saying that because it’s my alma mater, I’m saying that from look at the track record of these coaches on the offensive side of the ball.

    “You got Chris Weinke, Tee Martin, and Jim Chaney. That’s all I need.”

    As for Pruitt, he has all the faith in the world in Chaney’s ability to run an offense and mold a quarterback.

    “If you look at Jim’s time at Georgia, you can look at his time at Tennessee, and really wherever he’s been, he’s had a lot of success, and he’s done it a bunch of different ways,” Pruitt said of Chaney. “Jim’s a guy that, in my opinion, is one of the best guys in the country.”

    Having Chaney is one of the many reasons there are expectations for Guarantano to take the next step this season.

    During Pruitt’s first year as Tennessee’s head coach, Guarantano threw for 1,904 yards, 12 touchdowns, and three interceptions. He took care of the football at an exceptional rate, but because of the constant pressure he faced, he and the rest of the offense lacked big plays on a consistent basis.

    According to Pro Football Focus, Guarantano was just as good under pressure, however.

    Guarantano was sacked on 8.2 percent of his drop backs last season, which ranked 106th in the country. But when he was pressured, he completed 57 percent of his passes, the best completion percentage under pressure in the entire FBS.

    Among SEC quarterbacks, Guarantano first in completion percentage (57.0), second in QBR (42.3) and second in completions of 20 or more yards (15) when facing pressure. He also threw six of his 12 touchdowns when facing pressure.

    “He can handle a whole lot,” Pruitt said. “The last 18 months, I’ve got to know who he is.

    “A tough guy that has plenty of arm strength. He’s a really good athlete. He understands our expectations, and I think he’s been a really tremendous leader over the last six months of this offseason.”

    Guarantano and his head coach will look to meet those expectations when the Vols take the field for the first time in 2019 when they face Georgia State on Aug. 31.

    Ben McKee is a graduate from the University of Tennessee and has a degree in Journalism and Electronic Media. He covers Tennessee football, basketball, baseball, and the Lady Vols for RTI, and he's also the host of the RTI Podcast. You can also hear Ben on the morning sports radio show "The Swain Event." He's the producer and co-host along with former Vol wide receiver Jayson Swain.