Tennessee mailbag: Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano appears to be future of offense, but when?
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Coach Butch Jones says he’s looking for answers, opening up every position and reviewing things “A to Z.”
While it’s true that it all starts up front in football — in the trenches, on the offensive and defensive lines — there’s another position that dictates a team’s personality.
The quarterback is the trigger, the man under center, the coach on the field and the face of the offense.
Tennessee has been riding junior Quinten Dormady, starting the Texas product each of the first five games with mixed results.
Redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano has played in relief in small stretches, showing flashes of the talent that made him the No. 1-ranked dual-threat QB in the 2016 signing class.
Tennessee football question of the day
Q: Why not try to have Jarrett (Guarantano) a package for the next two weeks, so he can be ready to be the starting quarterback for South Carolina?
Mark Allen Lambeth
That’s a great question, Mark. Tennessee’s ability to answer it during the bye week probably will determine the offense’s success moving forward.
When the quarterback competition was taking place during spring drills, it seemed like developing a package for Guarantano might be a good plan — something similar to what Florida did in 2006 when Chris Leak was a senior and Tim Tebow was a freshman.
It offered the concept of having an experienced quarterback run a more conventional offense — one that involves several players and spreads the ball around — while still taking advantage of the dual-threat skills of another quarterback who can create problems with his running ability.
Tennessee opted to have the two quarterbacks compete to run the same style of offense, planning to rely on senior veteran receiver Josh Smith, leading returning receiver Jauan Jennings and senior tight end Ethan Wolf.
Smith, however, struggled to get healthy after offseason hernia surgery and was not able to work with the quarterbacks as much as others in the offseason.
Jennings, meanwhile, suffered a wrist injury in the season-opening 42-41 double-overtime win over Georgia Tech, and he is expected to miss the rest of the season.
To complicate matters, the veteran offensive line the Vols had returning suffered a series of injuries in fall camp that limited scrimmage time. This, after a spring football session that saw 23 players miss the Orange and White Game with injuries.
Add it all up, and Tennessee is left with an offense that lacks cohesion, as has been evident the past two games.
The Vols have invested a great deal of time into the base offensive package they have built around Dormady, a strong-armed, poised quarterback capable of distributing the ball in an extended playbook.
The problem is that Tennessee’s retooled receiving corps has 14 dropped passes this season, and on other occasions the young wideouts have run incorrect or imprecise routes, resulting in sacks and interceptions.
Chances are Tennessee will continue to work the same offensive game plan during the bye week with hopes of the players getting into sync.
The Vols have opted for an offensive plan that changes each week, looking to take advantage of the matchup opportunities each defense offers.
Guarantano, however, has gotten more work as the season has progressed, and it’s likely he will continue to play more in games.
Jones pulled Dormady out of the 17-13 win over UMass and 41-0 defeat to Georgia and inserted Guarantano, hoping for a spark.
Guarantano has shown flashes, but he was unable to direct a touchdown drive in either game.
The extent of Guarantano’s playing time moving forward will be determined by his ability to grasp the offense and prove himself effective once in games.
There’s a chance the Tennessee coaches will build a limited package for Guarantano during the bye week, but unless he starts performing better than Dormady in practice, becoming the starting quarterback would be surprising.