Tennessee offensive coordinator Jim Chaney was one of two assistant coaches to speak with the media over Zoom on Thursday.
The second year offensive coordinator covered a variety of topics concerning the Vols’ offense heading into 2020, including the running back room and how the offense as a whole has performed through the first two weeks of fall camp.
As for quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, Chaney says that the fifth-year senior seems to have a better understanding of the offense heading into his second season under Chaney.
“Without any question,” Chaney said. “That’s exactly the goal of every quarterback, is to get them to execute the offense the way we want to, obviously. There’s so much subjectivity that comes in to the evaluation of quarterbacks — he did this, he did that, he shouldn’t have done that. We try to eliminate that and get rid of the subjectivity and we quantify as much as we possibly can on the practice field.”
It was obvious early last season that the Vols embattled quarterback was struggling to adjust through Tennessee’s 1-4 start. Chaney marked the fourth offensive coordinator that Guarantano had played under since arriving in Knoxville in 2016.
He wasn’t perfect down the stretch by any means, but Guarantano did show improvement. The New Jersey native helped make key plays to lead the Vols to a six-game winning streak to end the 2019 season after being benched in place of true freshman Brian Maurer in multiple games.
“Every ball that comes out of their hand, it’s either on target or not, the decision is either good or not, and that’s what goes into these things,” Chaney said. “We have a category that sometimes is not good that when we do something really stupid with the ball that puts our team at risk.
“So far to date you can see that he’s (Guarantano) demonstrating the importance of the ball and also understanding within our concepts, those numbers continue to rise and it’s our objective way to be able to see growth and development and I feel real comfortable that he’s doing that right now. Are we where we need to be? No, not at all but we got to continue to work to get better.”
One of the quarterbacks that saw playing time last season as a result of Guarantano’s struggles was J.T. Shrout, who is now entering his redshirt sophomore season with the program. Shrout appeared in four games a season ago, starting against UAB. In a 41-21 win over South Carolina, Shrout tossed for 122 yards and a touchdown.
The progress of Shrout from last season to this fall camp that has stood out to Chaney.
“It’s just familiarity,” Chaney said of Shrout’s improvement. “By the numbers he seems to be doing a better job with the ball.
“With J.T. and young quarterbacks within new concepts, they tend to be a little reckless with the ball and putting it in spots we don’t want it to go into. So, we feel like being able to monitor that they’ll continually get better and I think J.T. has done a really good job of that. There’s a couple practices there that he did some things we prefer him not to, like all quarterbacks do, but we have seen growth on that. It’s just the security of the football is what we’re looking for. I feel like he’s much more familiar within the concepts and progressing through where we need him to go.”
As far as the running for the backup quarterback spot, Chaney says that it is too early into fall camp to decide that position. The options that consist of Maurer, Shrout and five-star true freshman Harrison Bailey are receiving equal reps.
“Everything is up in the air,” Chaney said. “Way too early to make decisions on that and Coach (Jeremy Pruitt) is trying to keep us in the most competitive environment we can.
“They got to be put under the fire, we got to see how they’re going to react when things happen like that to feel comfortable with them playing. They’ll earn that two-spot and that three-spot and that fourth-spot. Unfortunately, that’s life, somebody is going to get a little better than the other one and we’ll sort that out as the thing goes on. I feel like that’s where we’re at right now, so nothing’s cut-and-dry one bit. There’s competition throughout the team, but particularly at that spot.”
Tennessee is currently scheduled to begin its 2020 season on Sept. 26 with a trip to South Carolina. Following their contest with the Gamecocks, the Vols will return to Knoxville for the home-opener against Missouri on Oct. 3.