Jarrett Guarantano enters his redshirt junior season with 18 career starts under his belt and the second-best career completion percentage (62.1) and career interception percentage (1.30) in Tennessee history. And he’s the undisputed starter at quarterback for UT heading into his fourth year as a Vol.
The Lodi, New Jersey native showed significant improvement last season after a rough redshirt freshman year in 2017. After throwing for 997 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions in six starts in 2017, he threw for 1,907 yards, 12 touchdowns, and just three interceptions in 12 starts in 2018. Guarantano shattered the school record for consecutive pass attempts without an interception last season, completing 166 straight passes without one. Casey Clausen held the previous record of 143 straight completions without an opponent picking off a pass.
While those numbers are impressive, as is being just second behind Peyton Manning in career completion percentage, there’s still room for significant improvement.
Guarantano’s 12 touchdowns ranked 12th in the SEC among starting quarterbacks while his 1,907 passing yards were just 11th-best. With the addition of Jim Chaney, those numbers are expected to skyrocket, however. And according to head coach Jeremy Pruitt, Guarantano is already off to a solid start this preseason.
“Jarrett has had a really good fall camp,” Pruitt said during his media availability following Tuesday’s practice. “He just has to make sure he improves every day.”
Though Guarantano is off to a nice start in fall camp, Tennessee’s first scrimmage wasn’t his greatest day at the office.
“Sunday was not his best day,” Pruitt said. “We changed up the format of the scrimmage a little bit. (We) started with third downs instead of starting with a traditional team move the field. We started it with a third-down period just cause we needed to do that just based off the way we wanted to scrimmage. We didn’t get off to a fast start there, but we improved as the scrimmage went.”
It’s almost as if Tennessee’s first scrimmage on Sunday was an identical script to the Vols’ 2018 season. That script consisted of many slow starts on offense, but as was the case during the scrimmage, Tennessee would go on to find somewhat of a rhythm as things progressed.
What Pruitt is looking for in Guarantano, however, is his ability to make the players around him better. All of the great quarterbacks do it. From Tom Brady to Peyton Manning, the best signal callers don’t just play great on their own; they make their teammates around them look better and play better. According to Pruitt, Guarantano can do it, but he has to do it every single day.
“We’ve got to eliminate penalties — offensive penalties, pre-snap penalties,” Pruitt said. “Got to do a better job communicating verbally and non-verbally.
“We’ve got to be better on third down. We have to finish our blocks. We’ve got to finish the play.”
In the eyes of Tennessee’s second-year coach, quite a bit of hidden yardage is left on the field on every play. Whether it’s on offense or defense, Pruitt wants to see his team strain more in the Vols’ second scrimmage of fall camp.
“If someone just strains the last part of the play, it can go from second-and-2 to first-and-10,” Pruitt explained. “Or it can go from second-and-2 to second-and-7. It’s a big difference, right? So we have to finish the last part of the plays. We have to take care of the football. Not that we turn the football over a lot in the scrimmage, but we’ve got to be a team that takes care of the football with some of the runners. But we have to make sure we’re sound when it comes to that.”
Tennessee’s first test of being a sound football team will be Aug. 31st when the Vols welcome Georgia State to Neyland Stadium. Until then, they’ll have to improve in that regard in practice and in scrimmages.