We get you ready for the start of spring practice for Tennessee’s football team with our position preview series. Our most recent piece looked at Tennessee’s running backs. Our final piece is a look at the Vols’ quarterbacks.
Seniors: Jarrett Guarantano (RS)
Juniors: Kasim Hill (RS)
Sophomores: Brian Maurer, J.T. Shrout (RS)
Freshmen: Harrison Bailey, Jimmy Holiday
In Jeremy Pruitt’s first spring as the Vols’ head coach, Tennessee had a serious lack of quarterbacks to go through spring practices. The Vols had redshirt sophomore Jarrett Guarantano and sophomore Will McBride as their only scholarship options at the position.
Fast forward to Pruitt’s third spring at the helm of UT’s football program, and having enough bodies is no longer a concern.
The Vols enter spring practices with five scholarship quarterbacks and a notable walk-on in Maryland transfer Kasim Hill. In fact, Tennessee has more scholarship quarterbacks than they do projected scholarship inside linebackers and scholarship running backs to start the spring.
Tennessee welcomes in two newcomers to the quarterback room as early enrollees from the Vols’ 2020 class, and both of those new QBs will be watched very closely this spring. Five-star Harrison Bailey will get the most attention, as many Vol fans are hoping to see Bailey come in and win the starting quarterback job as a true freshman. While Bailey undoubtedly will get the most attention, Jimmy Holiday brings plenty of intrigue as well. Holiday will get a shot at quarterback to start out the spring, but many believe he could be destined to move to wide receiver at some point down the line.
So who will those two freshmen be competing with? Try three different quarterbacks with starting experience in the SEC.
Jarrett Guarantano returns as one of the most veteran signal callers in the SEC for the 2020 season, but his starting job is anything but guaranteed. At times last season, Guarantano showed a lot of promise and bounced back very well after a rough start to his year that culminated in a brutal fumble at the goal line against Alabama. But that performance was followed up by a 400-plus yard passing game against Missouri just a few weeks later as Guarantano reclaimed his starting job.
All in all, Guarantano appeared in all 13 games for Tennessee in 2019 and started seven of them, completing 59.1 percent of his passes for 2,158 yards, 16 touchdowns, and eight interceptions.
When Guarantano first lost his starting job, true freshman Brian Maurer took over. But after suffering two concussions, J.T. Shrout was inserted into the QB position — with some help from Jauan Jennings — against South Carolina. Shrout would end up starting against UAB later on as well.
While Maurer showed some promise and some dual-threat capabilities, he also tossed five interceptions in just 75 pass attempts and only completed 46.7 percent of his passes. Shrout, meanwhile, finished 13-of-27 in his four appearances with 179 yards and a touchdown.
Needless to say, Tennessee needs more out the quarterback position in 2020.
Heading into spring practices, Guarantano still likely has the edge on the starting job. It’ll still be his job to lose, but another offseason of strength and conditioning and learning the playbook for both Maurer and Shrout should amp things up, and Bailey has more pressure on him to succeed than any quarterback that has come to Tennessee in quite some time. All eyes will be on JG and HB as the young five-star tries to unseat the fifth-year veteran.
But Guarantano and Bailey aren’t the only ones who will be watched closely.
Can Maurer take another step and eliminate some of his inconsistencies? Will Shrout learn how to manage the offense better? Can Kasim Hill factor into the QB battle? Will Jimmy Holiday surprise and be more of a threat at quarterback than just a runner?
Few positions offer as much intrigue as quarterback, and that’s especially true for Tennessee this spring. The Vols have five, possibly six players legitimately competing for just one spot, and there’s bound to be some movement once spring practices end.
Before that, though, Tennessee fans will have a whole month full of speculation and debate on whether or not Guarantano can fend off UT’s younger quarterbacks this spring and heading into the fall.
Tennessee hasn’t had a legit quarterback battle in the spring since 2017. While Guarantano likely has the edge because of his experience, there’s clearly more talent in the QB room in 2020 than the Vols have had in a while. The spring will be the start of a long battle before the start of the 2020 season.