Arguably the biggest storyline this spring for Tennessee has been who will take the helm at quarterback this upcoming season in Tyson Helton’s new offensive scheme.
The two lead candidates are the only scholarship quarterbacks Tennessee currently has on its roster: Jarrett Guarantano and Will McBride.
Guarantano may be seen as the favorite to land the job between the two, and his impressive performance of 226 yards and two touchdowns in the Orange and White Game may have furthered his cause.
But head coach Jeremy Pruitt has not tipped his hand since he arrived on campus.
“I know one thing: You can’t win in this league without a quarterback,” Pruitt said in March. “I’ve been as brutally honest as I can; I don’t know what we have at any position.”
Despite the talent of both Guarantano and McBride, they may not be the best fits for the kind of offense Helton will integrate at Tennessee. At the moment, Helton appears to be bringing a pro-style offense in which the Vols could potentially air the ball out more and take more snaps under center.
Guarantano and McBride, though they have talented arms, are not accustomed to this style of play at quarterback. Both were dual-threat quarterbacks coming out of high school, and both have played in Tennessee’s spread offense the past couple of years, with more snaps coming from the shotgun.
The systems are completely different, and it’s hard to teach old dogs new tricks.
However, Tennessee has one more quarterback coming this summer that could quickly insert himself into the conversation for starting quarterback: Stanford graduate transfer Keller Chryst.
Chryst spent his formative years at Palo Alto High School in Palo Alto, California, where he was ranked as the No. 3 overall pro-style quarterback in the 2014 recruiting class, according to the 247Sports Composite. He committed and signed on to play for Stanford.
The Chryst family is one steeped in athletic tradition. Geep Chryst, Keller’s father, is currently the tight ends coach for the Denver Broncos. Paul Chryst, his uncle, is the current head coach for the Wisconsin Badgers.
His mother played collegiate volleyball, and his uncle, Rick, is a former commissioner for the Mid-American Conference.
Chryst played in 23 total games at Stanford, posting an 11-2 record when starting for the Cardinals. In his career, he completed 55.2 percent of his passes for 1,901 yards and 19 touchdowns to just six interceptions.
In the 2016 Sun Bowl against North Carolina, Chryst exited in the second quarter with a knee injury, later diagnosed as an ACL tear.
Though he would get healthy in time to start the 2017 season at quarterback for Stanford, it was a tough road back.
“It’s mainly all mental,” Chryst told CBS Sports on his recovery. “Maybe 99 percent mental. Doing the right thing every day, getting treatment every day, asking for help every day.”
Chryst’s 2017 season was not one that will likely be a fond memory. He had an uninspiring week-three performance in which he threw for just 72 yards and two interceptions against San Diego State.
The next week, he exited Stanford’s game against UCLA with another apparent injury. The Cardinal then turned to freshman quarterback KJ Costello, who led Stanford to a victory on the back of 123 yards and two touchdowns.
Chryst never saw the field again as Stanford’s starting quarterback. In January, he announced he would transfer from Stanford as a graduate and in March announced his next destination would be Tennessee.
Despite the lackluster finish to his Stanford career, Chryst could be a very important piece at Tennessee. He’s spent almost his entire career playing in a pro-style system, similar to what Helton is expected to bring to Tennessee.
Chryst may be a perfect marriage to Helton’s system due to his experience. Though he’s coming to Tennessee late, his past may give him an advantage over both Guarantano and McBride.
Pruitt has been mum on who exactly has the edge in the starting quarterback race, but it isn’t unreasonable to expect Chryst to be a major factor early.
“There’s probably other guys that would have liked to have come here,” Pruitt said of Chryst in March. “But I would not tell them they’d be the starting quarterback. Keller was excited about just the chance to compete.
“That’s all he wanted.”