As the 2018/2019 college football season approaches, one of the biggest questions surrounding Tennessee’s program going into fall camp remains: Who will win the quarterback position? Each candidate vying for the job brings a unique skill set to the table and with new offensive coordinator Tyson Helton in the box, it’s anyone’s guess as to who will emerge as Tennessee's top signal caller.
Things we know:
First year head coach Jeremy Pruitt has already alluded to his plans for the Vols’ offensive renovations. It’s expected that he will bring in a pro-style package with a solid pocket passer, heavy run attack, and tall receivers on the edges who can drag down the 50/50 ball. However, this is SEC football we are talking about, and the inability to adapt and remain fluid on the offensive side of the ball is what ultimately brought the demise of the last two Tennessee coaches. With that being said, we’ll take a look at each quarterback on the Vols’ roster and try our best to deduce an eventual starter.
Quinten Dormady (Noteable Transfer)
After a rough start to the 2017/2018 season, Dormady was benched by former head coach Butch Jones. Dormady looked brilliant in the spring game, but ultimately fizzled out after a thrilling opening victory over Georgia Tech in which wide receiver Marquez Callaway’s breakout performance kept the Vols in the game long enough to pull it out in overtime. Over the summer, Dormady announced his transfer out of Knoxville and ended up at the University of Houston under sophomore head coach Major Applewhite. Vol nation wishes Quinten much success in Houston, but must look forward at its current options.
Guarantano (6’4’, 209 lbs, Lodi, NJ) handled the lion’s share of the snaps in Tennessee's abysmal 2017/2018 season as a red-shirt freshman. He had a few bright spots including a break out game vs Kentucky where he went 18 of 23 on pass completions. Surprisingly, Guarantano completed 62% of his passes that season with an overall record of 86 for 139 with just two interceptions. Therein lies the strength of Jarrett Guarantano, his ability to take care of the ball. Although he was touted as the number 1 dual threat QB in his recruiting class, we have yet to see Jarrett truly showcase his running ability. This isn't necessarily an issue for Helton though, as it's expected that the starter will most likely spend a majority of his time in the pocket under the Vols’ new offensive direction. With a new coaching staff in its first season, a new scheme on both sides of the ball, and a grueling schedule, Tennessee's best hope for success is a unified locker room, a change in culture, and the ability to hang on to the ball offensively while creating turnovers defensively. We all know that Guarantano can take care of the ball, and it's being said that the team is behind him in the upcoming season. For these two reasons, we should expect to see Guarantano take the first snap in Charlotte for the Vols on September 1st. He has definitely matured over the summer and appears to be the caliber of player he needs to be for coach Pruitt to put a “C” on his jersey.
Chryst (6’5”, 239 lbs, Charlotte, NC) is an incoming grad transfer from Stanford who's expected to be, as coach Jeremy Pruitt puts it, “the spark this team is needing”. He’s got the pocket presence that Pruitt and Helton are looking for as well as the size. Not to mention, his experience bodes well for him. Chryst went 11-2 as a starter for Stanford with 19 TD passes and just 6 interceptions. He’s played in a pro-style offense his entire career and he’s done it on the west coast in the PAC 12, which is the environment Helton is used to coaching in. These things considered, the stars seem to be perfectly aligned for Chryst to come in and be the poster child of Helton’s new offense. However, there are some questions that need to be answered before Chryst gets the nod of approval from Pruitt. How much of Chryst’s success at Stanford came from having Heisman candidate Bryce Love in his backfield to open up options downfield? Why did he lose his job to an incoming freshman? How will Chryst handle the warp speed at which he will have to integrate himself into his new university, campus, culture, team, and position group? It’s going to be a lot for anyone, no matter how talented, to digest which is why we expect that Guarantano will take the helm in the West Virginia game and it will be his to lose throughout the rest of the season. Don’t rule Chryst out though, the likelihood is high that he will see the field this season, and he’ll have something to play for as he attempts to cement his place in the upcoming NFL draft. At worst case, he makes for a highly motivated backup quarterback with a lot to prove.
McBride, (6’1”, 209 lbs, League City, TX) showed us flashes of what his capabilities are in the 2017 season, as Tennessee and former coach Butch Jones sifted through injury woes at the quarterback position. As a true sophomore whose redshirt was unexpectedly burned last season, McBride went toe to toe with Missouri QB Drew Lock, and came out with a pretty decent performance. He threw for 139 yards on 32 attempts, completing fifty percent of his passes and even shuffled a little bit on the ground for 69 yards. While McBride isn’t quite ready to lead the Vols through the shark tank that is opposing SEC defenses, he definitely has the attributes to mature into an excellent option for the vols in his senior or graduate seasons. Barring any injuries reminiscent of a Butch Jones team, we shouldn’t see too much of Will this year. If he wants to start in the future, he’ll need to be a sponge on the sidelines and perform well when he’s called upon for mop up duty in blowout games.
Shrout, (6’3”, 210 lbs, Newhall CA) rounds out the list of Tennessee field generals. As a true freshman, his redshirt should be guarded by the new coaching staff like Fort Knox. That being said, the NCAA’s new redshirt rule in which players can contribute on the field in up to four games, could allow Shrout a little playing time late this season if the Vols can get up heavily on Kentucky or Vanderbilt. Shrout will also, most likely be embracing his sponge role, much like McBride, for the 2018 season. However, he’s got some skill and by the time he’s ready for his first start, he’ll have had plenty of time to mature, and might even be the future of this team. JT attended the QB Collective Camp in July and was identified as one of the top quarterbacks there by NFL coaches and scouts in a group of QBs that included top 2018 and 2017 prospects. Longtime NFL quarterback Sage Rosenfels said of all the quarterbacks at the QB Collective, Shrout would be “the guy who could step in on day one and fundamentally work within an NFL system …. “His drop was smooth. His fundamentals were very efficient and he throws a great ball.” This bodes well for the future of Tennessee football.
The Volunteers have a bright future at the QB position, and currently sit comfortably with two very competitive options to lead the offense. It remains to be seen how the new staff will handle and develop quarterbacks, but if their ability to cultivate talent is anything like their ability to recruit, Tennessee football will be back in title contention very soon.