Dan Fleser: Vols Quarterback Options Limited As Mighty Alabama Comes Calling

Thursday, October 22, 2020 - by Dan Fleser

Jeremy Pruitt suggested who’s starting at quarterback for Tennessee was undecided in advance of Saturday’s visit from Alabama. The Vols’ football coach “would say” that was the case following last Saturday’s 34-7 debacle against Kentucky but that might’ve been the anger and frustration talking.


The Vols’ options appear to be limited behind redshirt senior starter Jarrett Guarantano.

Redshirt sophomore backup J.T. Shrout was the first QB off the bench on Saturday but threw an interception on his first pass. He’s had his chances since last season and hasn’t seized the moment.


The other backups – Brian Maurer and Harrison Bailey – have been playing from behind because of either injury or inexperience. Maurer, who had four starts last season, had nagging knee and hamstring issues during the preseason and hadn’t been practicing regularly until the past two weeks. Freshman Bailey, meanwhile, was sidelined during the preseason with protocol issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.


Judging by their loud reaction to his 24-yard completion to fellow freshman Malachi Wideman last Saturday, the fans are investing their hope in Bailey. He hasn’t disappointed them yet so he has that advantage. But he doesn’t have much experience.


Bailey took all the snaps during a Sunday night scrimmage following the Vols’ 44-21 loss at Georgia on Oct. 10. The intent was to jump start his maturation.


“Well, when we put (Bailey) in, he hadn’t taken any reps for the Kentucky game so we just called plays that we knew he would know,” Pruitt said. “Again, I can’t reiterate enough when it comes to Harrison, the lack of opportunity that he got during fall camp. He’s getting more and more reps. When you’re getting ready to play a game, you work one quarterback and you have a backup. The third-team guy gets a few reps if he can get it.


“With Harrison, we’re going to continue to work him and develop him. Same thing with Brian, J.T., all of them. There’s only one fall. It’s not camp. We’re not in camp now. We’re in the season and we have to prepare for our opponent, which is why we’re having this extra thing on Sunday night.”


D-line expectations: Pruitt took the unusual step of firing defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh after just four games and taking over his duties. The heat is on the head coach now to get the line to play up to his expectations.


“We got to play with more toughness, more effort,” Pruitt said. “Got to be able to play on the other side of the line of scrimmage. We need to get more pressure up the middle without having to bring (extra pressure).”


 Alabama offense: I’m old enough to remember when Alabama ran a wishbone offense. Seems like eons ago compared to the attack UT will face in Neyland Stadium (TV: CBS, 3:30 p.m.).


Crimson Tide quarterback Mac Jones has completed nearly 80 percent of his passes while throwing for 1,518 yards and 12 touchdowns. Receivers Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith are averaging more than 100 yards per game. Running back Najee Harris is averaging 124.8 yards rushing and has scored 11 touchdowns.           


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Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who covered University of Tennessee athletics from 1988-2019. He can be reached at danfleser3@gmail.com.

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