Tennessee QB situation remains uncertain heading into opener
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee’s quarterback situation remains a mystery less than a week before the first game of Jeremy Pruitt’s coaching tenure.
Even the season opener Saturday against No. 17 West Virginia at Charlotte, North Carolina, might not settle matters.
The depth chart released Monday cleared things up at least somewhat by officially turning a four-way competition into a two-man race. Tennessee’s starting quarterback is listed as either incumbent Jarrett Guaratano or Stanford graduate transfer Keller Chryst , the two most experienced contenders in a race that also included sophomore Will McBride and freshman JT Shrout.
Tennessee’s uncertainty isn’t restricted to the quarterback position. The word “or” appears 13 times on Tennessee’s depth chart, with no clear-cut first team player at positions ranging from tight end to punter.
“I think with all the positions that we have, we still have competition,” Pruitt said. “The best teams that I’ve ever been a part of, there are lots of times that guys that may start the first game don’t start the fifth game or the eighth game. There have been lots of guys who didn’t even play the first game that may have been the MVP of the last game.”
Pruitt spent the last two seasons as defensive coordinator at Alabama , where Tua Tagovailoa was named the offensive MVP of the College Football Playoff Championship game after coming off the bench at halftime to rally the Crimson Tide past Georgia in overtime. One year earlier, Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts didn’t start the season opener but ended up being named the Southeastern Conference offensive player of the year.
Tennessee’s unresolved quarterback situation represents a major contrast from its season-opening opponent. West Virginia returns Will Grier and has launched a Heisman Trophy campaign in support of the fifth-year senior who earned Associated Press preseason All-America honors .
Guarantano, a redshirt sophomore, started six of Tennessee’s final seven games last year and completed 62 percent of his passes for four touchdowns and two interceptions. Chryst completed 54.2 percent of his passes for 962 yards with eight touchdowns and four interceptions at Stanford last year.
Chryst owned an 11-2 career record as Stanford’s starting quarterback but lost his job to K.J. Costello last season.
“They’re going to put the best person out (there) and we can only do what we can,” Tennessee wide receiver Marquez Callaway said. “Obviously I would like to know now, but it doesn’t work like that. We just have to wait and find out.”
While the release of the depth chart left plenty of unanswered questions, it did clear up a few things.
For instance, Tennessee plans to start Trey Smith at left tackle. Smith is such a versatile player that Tennessee coaches had indicated he could play anywhere on the offensive line.
Smith earned second-team all-SEC honors last year and was Tennessee’s only all-conference selection. He missed all of spring practice due to blood clots in his lungs .
Tennessee also plans to start a true freshman cornerback against West Virginia’s high-powered passing attack. The depth chart lists Alontae Taylor or Bryce Thompson as the starter at one cornerback spot. Both are freshmen.
Ten players who have never appeared in a game for Tennessee are listed among the 39 possible starters on offense, defense or special teams. That list includes three graduate transfers (Chryst, center Brandon Kennedy and running back Madre London), two junior-college transfers (guard Jahmir Johnson and tight end Dominick Wood-Anderson), one redshirt freshman (punter Joe Doyle) and four true freshmen (Taylor, Thompson, guard Jerome Carvin and punter Paxton Brooks).
Pruitt cautioned that competition remains fluid at every position, so the depth chart may not be a definitive indicator of how playing time will get divided.