As we enter what I call the dark days of summer because we’re just weeks removed from spring practice but months away from actual football starting, we’ve got to fill our minds with visions of orange-and-white grandeur to pass the time, right?
That’s why you see esteemed Internet sites like this fill pages with projections, because, really, that’s why you’re here. You want to read about Tennessee athletics, and considering it’s almost as if the Volunteers don’t have a baseball team [or one worth watching, anyway] we’ve got to fill the space with football hopes and dreams.
Spring practice — like most all the springs before of the Butch Jones era — didn’t tell us much. But after what we saw and read, we can make some prognostications about what we may see, or at least expect to see, once fall practice starts. So, over the course of the next couple of weeks, I’m going to break down position-by-position what we saw, what we read and what I’ve heard about to project who’s gonna play where come opening weekend against Georgia Tech.
We’ll start this series at the most important position on the team: Quarterback.
I saw that half of football. Now, I’m a believer.
There are a lot of folks who want to go out on a limb and make crazy assumptions and logic leaps about the Tennessee quarterback battle following Quinten Dormady’s brilliant 10-of-10 spring game performance where he threw for 120 yards and culminated two scoring drives with touchdown tosses.
That doesn’t diminish anything Jarrett Guarantano did this spring; not in the least. By all accounts, the redshirt freshman who entered the spring as the fan favorite to win the job [even though there’s no indication he’s who the coaches favored] did nothing but help his cause this spring. He may have experienced moments and even days of inconsistency, but his skill set is immense. Guarantano is not as shifty or as brilliant in the open field as Joshua Dobbs, but he arguably has better straight-line speed. Once he realizes when to take off and when to stay put in the pocket, he’s going to be fun to watch.
Guarantano also has next-level arm strength. He probably has the best arm of any Tennessee quarterback since Erik Ainge, and that’s not an exaggeration. The ball literally jumps out of his hand, and though he hasn’t completely harnessed it yet, the “arm talent,” as analysts like to call it, sets him apart from a lot of other players.
The problem with Guarantano is experience. He simply doesn’t have any of it, and when you factor in he missed half of his senior season of high school with an injury, he’s just raw. He’s an elite talent, but he’s not ready to be the starting quarterback yet.
This spring was more about what Dormady showed me than what Guarantano didn’t.
For the 2017 season, the Vols need to start out at least with somebody who has taken some live bullets. Thanks to Dobbs’ incredible durability over the course of the past two seasons, Dormady hasn’t played any meaningful snaps, but he has at least gotten in games. In those games, other than flashing his own great arm strength, he hasn’t done a lot to muster immense excitement. Then again, when you’re used to seeing Dobbs’ magnificence when plays break down, Dormady looked almost statuesque [side note: He’s not]. In actuality, the kid is athletic, he’s got a great arm and he’s been in the film room for two years. That cannot be overstated. This was already his third spring practice at UT, and that gives him an advantage.
When Dormady took the reins in the spring game, he showed that he has the ability to take it up a notch. Now, of course, spring games aren’t real games, and two-hand touch isn’t the best environment for a quarterback to showcase his talent. That’s why nobody is anointing new Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham as the first-team All-SEC quarterback. But because of his showing in the A-Day game coupled with how good he looked in limited action while he was at Baylor, there’s justifiable excitement. The same goes for Dormady. It’s the same palpable excitement we all felt when Dobbs was dynamic throwing the ball to Josh Malone three springs ago. We thought, “This kid looks like he can be a great player.” That turned out to be true.
As I’ve already mentioned in articles before, the best thing about the Orange & White Game performance of the 6’4″, 216-pound junior from Boerne, Texas, was not his perfection. It wasn’t his statistics. It was his ball placement on his passes. If he puts the ball in position for his receivers to make plays, that’s the best UT can hope for. The offense won’t look the same without Dobbs’ dual-threat ability, but Dormady has the opportunity to upgrade UT’s passing efficiency considerably. That’s not taking anything away from Dobbs’ dynamite senior season; but Dormady’s differences from Dobbs could actually be assets as UT flips to the Larry Scott era.
Dormady’s leadership could be an asset. With the offensive line expected to be a team strength in 2017 and with the depth new assistant Walt Wells enjoys at the position following the [much needed] ouster of Don Mahoney, the Vols don’t need a quarterback who can run for his life. He shouldn’t have to. John Kelly has proven he can be a very good SEC running back, and though there are depth questions behind him, UT has the talent to outfit the running back position nicely. Tennessee is unproven at the receiver position behind junior Jauan Jennings. So, they need a strong-armed, accurate passer to make them look good.
I’m not saying Dormady is that guy, but he has the ability to be that guy. We saw that flash in the spring game even though it was a small sample set.
So, when it comes to quarterback depth, I’m going to say Dormady is your starter to open the season. If you have to adjust accordingly, that’s OK. It’s also just fine if Guarantano gets in the game in certain situations and if the Vols can balance a two-quarterback system of sorts based on different schemes and defensive looks. But Dormady looked all spring like a starting quarterback, and so he gets the nod, because of experience but also because when the time came to showcase his skills, he took advantage of it. No matter what Jones says publicly, that had to give him the upper-hand.
With Sheriron Jones transferring, that elevates true freshman Will McBride to third-string quarterback behind Guarantano. If the Vols add Adrian Martinez to go along with Michael Penix in the 2018 recruiting class, UT’s quarterback situation could be a strength for a long time to come, even with the Vols striking out on Emory Jones, Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields.
Prediction: Quentin Dormady starter. Jarrett Guarantano 2nd string. Will McBride 3rd string.
Next: Running Backs