Starter: Jarrett Guarantano (R-Sr.)
Guarantano had as up-and-down a 2019 season as you’re going to see from a fourth-year junior. He threw for 2,158 yards and a career-high 16 touchdowns, but he also threw a career-high eight interceptions and completed just 59.1 percent of his passes, which was a career-low. Guarantano’s two best traits entering last season were his decision-making and his accuracy, but he regressed in both of those areas in 2019.
The fifth-year senior is my pick to start game No. 1 against Charlotte on Sep. 5, but Pruitt won’t come out this offseason and name Guarantano the starter like he did a year ago. Nor should he.
A second offseason under Chaney should help Guarantano tremendously, and you’ll likely see a marked improvement. Competition will also serve him well. Ultimately, Guarantano will determine how many games he starts in 2020.
QB No. 2: Brian Maurer (So.)
Most will pencil Harrison Bailey in as the No. 2 quarterback entering the season, but this projected depth chart is put together in the first week of June, not at the end of fall camp. Bailey has had two spring practices under his belt, while Brian Maurer and JT Shrout have legitimate game action under theirs. If a game were played today, I believe Tennessee would trot out Maurer and Shrout before they would Bailey.
As for Maurer, maturity is the most important thing he needs to improve. He showed the ability to make plays with his legs and flashed his ability as a passer on a couple of different occasions as a true freshman last season, but he made more poor decisions than he did big plays. Maurer completed 46.7 percent of his passes and threw five interceptions on 75 passing attempts, but he also connected with Callaway on a 73-yard touchdown against Georgia and picked up some big chunks as a runner.
Maturing on-and-off the field will lead to better decision-making in between the lines. If he can do that, Maurer has a great chance at locking down the No. 2 spot.
QB No. 3: JT Shrout (R-So.)
Shrout dealt with the same issues Maurer did last season, as he completed just 48.1 percent of his passes on 27 attempts. The California native has a big arm, but he needs to improve pre-snap if he is going to crack the top of the quarterback depth chart. Still, he’s played in actual conference games, and the staff would likely throw him out there before Bailey if there was a game today.
QB No. 4: Harrison Bailey (Fr.)
While I detailed why Bailey wasn’t the No. 2 quarterback as Tennessee returns to campus for voluntarily workouts, I do expect everyone’s favorite Tennessee quarterback to be the backup by the end of September. He simply needs to get the playbook down, and I believe his maturity — paired with his arm talent — will give him the chance to play this season if Guarantano falters. Spring practice being canceled and not being able to be on campus for the month of April and May significantly hurt Bailey’s chances of contributing early in the season, though.
QB No. 5: Kasim Hill (R-Jr.)
Kasim Hill is the forgotten man in the quarterback room. The Maryland transfer sat out last year due to transfer rules, but you could make the case that Hill’s resume is more impressive than any other quarterback on Tennessee’s roster. Hill led Maryland to two wins over Texas and served as the starting quarterback for the Terrapins for much of 2018.
It would likely take quite a bit for Hill to get on the field, but the point here is that Tennessee has five quarterbacks it could go to and have a legit chance of winning most games on their schedule. Most schools are lucky to say they have three such options.
QB No. 6: Jimmy Holiday (Fr.)
It feels as if Jimmy Holiday has already been cast to the wide receiver room, but his playing style is that of the quarterbacks that are taking over the NFL. Think Russell Wilson, Lamar Jackson, or Deshaun Watson. I’m not saying Holiday is going to turn out to be what those guys are, but the freshman has the athletic profile that those names do. And we were already hearing reports of Holiday’s athleticism impressing in workouts before spring practice was canceled.
Holiday may not ever truly play quarterback at Tennessee, but a designated package to utilize his speed and athleticism is a likely possibility.