The quarterback situation at Tennessee over the years is like trying to decide if you want to trade in your used vehicle for that better looking one, but you don’t know how the engine runs. A never ending cycle of trying to decide if new is better. What we have come to learn over the past four years is that the coaching staff thought they knew how it would play out, but still kept flirting with the newer model.
They ended up not even making it to the dealership, they just browsed online. So, as Tennessee enters spring practice looking to install a new offense, fans are excited for an actual quarterback competition.
New Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel brings his high-octane offense to a group of players used to running things slow, only periodically putting their foot on the gas. This scheme is completely different to what most of the Vols offense has ever seen, besides on ESPN. A fast moving, maybe ten seconds between plays type of offense. So, this is why the leader must be proficient in this scheme.
Tennessee’s quarterback coach Joey Halzle knows exactly what he wants out of his quarterback play and he’s ready to let them fly, but they must understand the scheme first. But even knowing that part, this group of quarterbacks should be excited about this quote from their new coach.
“We are going to let you rip it all over the field,” Halzle told the media when the offensive staff was introduced. “We are going to teach you. We are going to mold you into the best you can be, and then we are going to turn you loose to go play ball on Saturdays. We don’t make guys play scared.”
The quarterbacks that Coach Halzle has to work with this season have potential. Now they are going to be learning a completely new offense that will probably make them uncomfortable at times, but that’s the point. This group needs to know that making one mistake in spring practice won’t set them back a whole season, a situation that was all too familiar under the previous regime. The best part about what is being learned is that this system is quarterback friendly, according to Halzle.
“We are going to let you rip it,” Halzle said. “We are going to let you rip it all over the field. We are going to put a lot on you. To me, I would say that is quarterback friendly because we are not going to hold your hand. We are going to teach you. We are going to mold you into the best that you can be, and we are going to turn you loose to go play ball on Saturdays. We don’t make guys play scared. We don’t make them afraid to make mistakes. Go out there and cut it loose, but we do put a lot on them.”
Does this system fit Hendon Hooker or Kaidon Salter better? That will be determined over time, as will the speed at which these quarterbacks pick it up. What about Harrison Bailey and Brian Maurer? I’ll be interested to see how quickly these two men can erase Jim Chaney’s system from their memory and dive into the deep end of Heupel’s offense. The important part about the preparation for spring practice is that everyone will be learning at the same time and that nobody has a head start.
As Halzle put it, there’s going to be a starting point for each one of these guys, but Tennessee definitely needs a vocal quarterback who isn’t afraid to make mistakes.
“The starting point for us is we always have to deal with formations and splits,” Halzle said. “We are different than a lot of people like that. Then, you’ve got to teach the individual routes that we’re working, so we have a frame of reference when we’re speaking to each other. You know what I’m saying, I know that you understand what I’m saying. Then, from how everything groups together productionally and in your run game. What are my run game rules? What are my protection rules? You just build from, the very beginning of splits, formations, individual routes and then how does it all group into the full scheme of the offense? Most importantly, how does the defensive structure fit into that? We’re not just going out there blind, chucking it and hoping it works.”
What Halzle is also hinting at is that the trio of himself, Heupel and offensive coordinator Alex Golesh know exactly what they want out of a signal caller. So don’t worry about them not being aligned in their decisions. They’ve worked together to teach this fast-paced offense, so don’t expect Heupel to stroll over to the defensive side of the ball and decide to call a few plays either.
Golesh understands it will take time for this group of quarterbacks to figure out the offense, but it’s also about the other ten players trusting the guy leading them down the field. They have to be comfortable with the scheme, as hard as it might seem at first.
“Until you get out there and do it day one of spring ball, day one of March or mid-March, until you get out there and physically see it, control it, run it, I think it’s hard to simulate how fast we want to play,” Golesh said. “You’re teaching it, explaining it and walking through it, but I think until there is wood on the fire and you’re out there with no coaches around, I think it’s really hard. My hope is by practice four, five or six of spring we are hitting at a high tempo, but like any scheme it doesn’t matter because it’s repetition over everything. The more reps these guys get, the better we are going to be and it’s just force-feeding their program and letting these kids make mistakes and correcting them off the film.”
But Golesh has a goal, it might be a lofty one, but he has a goal. Bailey isn’t like Salter and Maurer isn’t like Bailey. Throw in Hooker and you’ve got yourself a buffet worth of talent that the coaches want to be in control of the offense by August.
“The hope is by the middle of spring that we’re operating at a high level,” Golesh said. “We’re just going to continue coaching and it’s a process-based deal in terms of building the offense. By the time we get to August and September, we’ll be hitting on all cylinders.”
The bottom line is that these offensive coaches have seen the tape, more of some than others. But the bright spot in the never-ending story of Tennessee quarterbacks? They’re going to get a chance to learn together, so now it’s about who can learn quicker and become the leader the Vols desperately need behind center. It won’t be easy, the coaches don’t expect it to be, but at least Bailey, Maurer, Hooker and Salter will all get a fair shake.
The quarterback spot hasn’t already been decided and that has to make the group hungry for competition. Buckle up young men, you’re about to learn the Huepel way.