Guarantano's goals remain sky high amid Vols' struggles
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee's back-to-back losing seasons have done nothing to limit quarterback Jarrett Guarantano's ambition.
"I literally went into the offseason and said I want to be the best in the country," Guarantano said Sunday. "I want to do things that I haven't done yet. I just want to be the best. Going into this season, I want to win a lot of games and I want the team to know that I'm the best in the country. That's really about it."
Guarantano's bid to become the best has involved studying guys who currently hold that title. He watched NFL quarterbacks such as Deshaun Watson, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees and also analyzed some of the college quarterbacks who have enjoyed much more success than him thus far.
"I looked at Tua," Guarantano said, referring to 2018 Heisman Trophy runner-up Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama. "I looked at (Georgia's Jake) Fromm. I looked at (Clemson's) Trevor (Lawrence) a little bit. I studied a lot of guys."
Guarantano wants to lead Tennessee back to relevance after consecutive last-place finishes in the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division.
Although Guarantano has thrown for 16 touchdowns with only five interceptions in 385 career passes, Tennessee has gone 6-12 in the games he has started.
After Tennessee went 5-7 last season, coach Jeremy Pruitt responded with a staff overhaul that included luring offensive coordinator Jim Chaney away from Georgia and moving 2000 Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke from running backs coach to quarterbacks coach.
Chaney is Guarantano's fourth offensive coordinator in as many seasons. Chaney's credentials help explain Guarantano's confidence.
"Everybody has immense trust and immense respect for him," Guarantano said. "Whenever we signed him, everybody was excited because we knew his track record and knew the types of things he's done in the past. The past two days, everybody's whooping and hollering. Everybody's very excited, just having that guy around. He exerts confidence in himself and us. I think our offense is much more confident, and we know our jobs better."
Chaney was Purdue's offensive coordinator during Brees' college career. Former Vols quarterbacks Jonathan Crompton and Tyler Bray both had productive seasons during Chaney's last stint at Tennessee. Nathan Peterman developed into an NFL quarterback prospect while playing for Chaney's offense at Pittsburgh.
Fromm vouched for Chaney last month at the SEC Media Days event. Chaney spent the last three years as Georgia's offensive coordinator.
"Coach Chaney was awesome — very, very, very intelligent," Fromm said. "He was always there to have great conversations about the game of football, about schemes, about Xs and Os. He was great. He played a lot of football and had a lot of football and had a lot of experience, so it's always great to have a coordinator like that."
Chaney and Guarantano say they've developed a mutual respect already. Chaney said he wants Guarantano to concentrate on "playing clean football, distributing it around to our playmakers and not letting him think everything rides on his shoulders."
"I've enjoyed Jarrett," Chaney said. "He's going to hopefully have a good season for us. He's hungry to do so. I think he's a very good student of football. He has a good aptitude and a good feel for the game."
Guarantano says some of the work he has done this offseason has involved fixing his footwork to become more elusive. Guarantano was sacked 26 times last season. He was sacked 22 times in 2017 despite starting just six games.
When he's had time to throw, Guarantano has shown star potential at times, most notably while passing for 328 yards in a road upset of Auburn last season. He wouldn't give his 2018 performance a letter grade but said he's learned from the setbacks he's endured.
"I think I'm a lot better football player than last year," Guarantano said.
He's eager for the chance to prove it.
NOTES: Heavy rains forced Tennessee to cancel its scheduled open practice at Neyland Stadium on Sunday. The Volunteers instead moved practice indoors and didn't make it open to the public. The Vols planned an indoor autograph session for fans after practice.