Right now, it’s uncertain whether or not the 2020 football season will be played as planned. But we’re moving ahead and providing our position preview series ahead of the start of Tennessee’s fall camp as if things will proceed as normal. After taking a look at the Vols’ running backs, we take a look at the Vols’ quarterback room next.
Seniors: Jarrett Guarantano (RS)
Sophomores: Brian Maurer, JT Shrout (RS)
Freshmen: Harrison Bailey
Now or never
Jarrett Guarantano was the unquestioned starter at quarterback for the Vols heading into the 2019 season. That won’t be the case this offseason, but it’s still Guarantano’s job to lose at this point.
And it’s “put up or shut up” time for the fifth-year senior, too.
Guarantano has had his strong moments as Tennessee’s starting quarterback in his career, but he’s also had plenty of head-scratching moments and poor performances, too. Last season, for example, Guarantano threw for 415 yards and two touchdowns in UT’s road victory over Missouri and also threw for 229 yards and two scores on just 19 attempts against South Carolina in the Vols’ home victory over the Gamecocks. But Guarantano also had abysmal performances against Florida, Alabama, and Vanderbilt and lost his job midway through the season only to eventually win it back.
As a fifth-year senior entering his second season in Jim Chaney’s offense — the first time in his college career that he’s gone back-to-back seasons with the same offensive coordinator — Guarantano should be the unquestioned leader of the offense. But that’s not the case.
Guarantano enters his final year as a Vol with just over 5,000 career passing yards, 32 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions while completing 60.9 percent of his 642 pass attempts. He’ll have a very different wide receiver group to throw to, but he (or whoever wins UT’s starting quarterback job) will have a stellar offensive line and good support in the run game.
Tennessee needs their quarterback to take another step this season, and Guarantano needs to show that this fall.
At the start of spring practices in March, Vol fans were ecstatic to finally get to see five-star Harrison Bailey on the practice field as an early enrollee. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic limited Bailey’s first spring to just two practices.
But that hasn’t really quieted the anticipation from Vol fans for UT’s newest signal caller.
Bailey still has a chance to come in and steal the starting job away from Guarantano as a true freshman, but that window is much, much smaller without a traditional spring and summer offseason. Still, Vol fans will be antsy to hear about Bailey as soon as fall camp starts, and Bailey can use this fall to his advantage even if he doesn’t win the starting role. He’ll still be fending off two other scholarship quarterbacks for the main backup role even if he can’t win the starting job.
What about a surprise?
Most of the attention at QB is being given to Guarantano and Bailey battling it out, but don’t count out one of Tennessee’s other young quarterbacks in the room.
Brian Maurer flashed some arm talent last season and showed off good running ability, but he definitely looked like a true freshman at times while on the field. That coupled with a handful of injuries, and Maurer never could establish himself as full-time starter once Guarantano was benched.
JT Shrout also saw action last year as the Vols searched for answers at quarterback, and while his strong arm certainly wowed at times, he also struggled with accuracy and decision-making.
But could either sophomore surprise this fall and really challenge for Tennessee’s starting job?
Both Maurer and Shrout have a lot of potential, but consistency and accuracy are the biggest things they need to improve. If either has a big fall, that could really shake things up at quarterback for the Vols.