KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt said the Vols’ quarterback race boils down to very simple concepts: touchdowns and leadership.
At present, Pruitt hasn’t indicated if there is a leader, even if Jarrett Guarantano has been ahead of Will McBride on what the coach says is not a depth chart, but rather a “reps chart.”
“To me, the biggest thing about playing quarterback, how do you affect your teammates?” said Pruitt, himself a high school quarterback before playing defensive back at Middle Tennessee and Alabama. “At the end of the day the bottom line is we want to take the football and go put it in the end zone, so you have to get all 11 guys going. Some guys have a way about them that get the other players to play their best. I think that’s the things that make the best quarterbacks who have ever played. That’s what separates.”
Guarantano is the better-looking player at 6-foot-4 and 218 pounds, and he has thrown the ball accurately in the drill portions of practice open to media.
But McBride impressed in front of high school coaches at Tennessee’s clinic when the defense was mixed in.
Meanwhile, Stanford graduate transfer Keller Chryst and 2018 pro-style quarterback signee JT Shrout are about ready to start packing for their June arrivals in Knoxville.
Pruitt will be watching Guarantano and McBride closely over these final five spring practices, well beyond the stat sheets.
Similar to former quarterbacks coach Mike Canales, Pruitt indicated the players are evaluated on leadership demonstrated within the reps and management of the huddle.
“I think the biggest thing with both of them, you’re never gonna play perfect, no player is. So we talk to our guys all the time that there’s no perfect players, no perfect coaches,” Pruitt said. “You have to be able to play the next play. If you throw a 60-yard touchdown, what will you do the next snap?
“If you turn the ball over, if you don’t make the right check, if you play poorly in the first quarter, is that gonna effect how you play the next three quarters?”
Pruitt said McBride and Guarantano both have the necessary talent and skills.
“Our quarterbacks, they wouldn’t be playing the position if they didn’t have arm talent,” Pruitt said. “It’s a blessing if they have foot talent, which both of these guys do. Both guys are smart, they are good competitors.
“But the key to the drill is who’s gonna get the other guys to go and play at their best.”
Indeed, offensive coordinator Tyson Helton is in lockstep with his head coach on the issue.
“A quarterback needs to be a field general,” Helton said. “He’s the one that when the game is on the line, he has to go out there and make it happen.
“But it really comes down to the intangibles. Is he the guy we want to represent our program and represent our Tennessee family?”