While the coronavirus has provided an abundance of uncertainty in the world of college football and the upcoming 2020 season, it has also provided some likely stability to the Tennessee quarterback situation — at least at the top.
Jarrett Guarantano started seven games in a rollercoaster 2019 season. The now redshirt senior had a disastrous September and after Guarantano went rogue in Tuscaloosa, fumbling and giving Alabama a 100+ yard scoop and score for the game-clinching touchdown, it seemed very unlikely that the New Jersey native would return to Knoxville for his senior year.
Injuries and inconsistent play from backup quarterbacks Brian Maurer and JT Shrout opened the door for Guarantano to earn back his position and that’s exactly what he did, first coming off the bench and contributing in wins over South Carolina, Kentucky and UAB before starting in the Vols’ final three games, wins over Missouri, Vanderbilt and Indiana.
Guarantano finished the season throwing for 2,158 yards on a 59% completion rate, adding 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Before the coronavirus outbreak, there was likely going to be an open quarterback competition in spring and fall practice. Most people were expecting Guarantano to hold off Maurer and Shrout and, even more significantly, freshman signal caller Harrison Bailey.
Bailey, the third ranked pro-style quarterback in the class of 2020 according to the 247sports composite, enrolled early in Knoxville so he could go through spring practice and compete to be the starter as a freshman.
Bailey arrives in Knoxville after a storied high school career at Marietta High School in Georgia. He led Marietta to a state title in his senior year, ending his career with the fourth-most passing yards in Georgia high school football history.
Bailey fell behind only Clemson stars Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence, and former Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm.
While it was unlikely that Bailey would have started in the Vols’ opener against Charlotte, it is nearly impossible that it happens now, with the shortened off-season and the cancellation of spring practice.
While the coronavirus provided clarity at the top of Tennessee’s quarterback depth chart, it also provides instability in the rest of the room.
Tennessee entered the spring with a jam-packed quarterback room. The Vols had five scholarship quarterbacks, as well as former Maryland starter and walk-on transfer Kasim Hill.
Spring practice was expected to give Maurer and Shrout a chance to see where they stacked up against the rest of the room, and most expected to see one of Tennessee’s quarterbacks transfer.
Maurer threw for 541 yards on 75 attempts as a freshman, but the Ocala, Florida native was reckless running the football, getting knocked out of three of the four games he started and struggling with turnovers, throwing five interceptions to just two touchdowns.
Shrout, a now redshirt-sophomore, played sparingly against South Carolina and UAB. The California native went 13 of 27 with 179 yards passing and a touchdown.
The final member of Tennessee’s quarterback room is a lesser known freshman. Jimmy Holiday was a late addition to Tennessee’s signee class, flipping from TCU to Tennessee during the early signing period.
The Mississippi native is ranked as the 26th best athlete in the country. Tennessee offensive coordinator Jim Chaney sold him on a plan to earn snaps in a wildcat role as a freshman, similar to what Jauan Jennings did out of that spot in 2019.
Holiday also enrolled early, so missing spring practice is a detriment to him.
Something else to watch whenever Tennessee begins fall practice or a preseason training camp is how Jeremy Pruitt and Chaney balance quarterback reps.
Pruitt said before spring practice that the plan was to balance them evenly, but with a shorter time to work and a brand new group of receivers who need to build chemistry with whomever the Vols’ starter is, it’s hard to imagine the top two of three guys not getting the lion’s share of the work.