Can Jeremy Pruitt recruit a game-changer at QB? That's quickly becoming Vols' most pressing question
There are 26 4- or 5-star QBs in the 2019 class. Nine have picked SEC schools, but none has picked Tennessee.
It’s far too early to determine if first-year head coach Jeremy Pruitt is the right fit for Tennessee’s football program.
It’s not too early to begin to wonder if quarterback Jarrett Guarantano is the quarterback to lead the Vols back to SEC relevance.
Guarantano, who is a redshirt sophomore, has done nothing to make UT’s coaches nor fans believe he’s the type of player that is set to assume the reins of UT’s offense for the foreseeable future. Does anyone firmly believe that Guarantano will actually be the answer that Pruitt needs at quarterback? If so, that seems like a rather optimistic outlook.
I’ve seen quarterbacks raise their level of play exponentially. The last half of former UT quarterback Jonathan Crompton’s senior season comes to mind. Maybe UT’s coaches can do the same with Guarantano, who has proven capable but not elite.
Tennessee’s coaches don’t seem willing to give backup Keller Chryst a chance. Unless that changes, the Vols are stuck with Guarantano. Freshman J.T. Shrout seems unlikely to get a shot at being UT’s starter. A former 3-star, he’s the unknown quarterback on the roster. However, Shrout did have a scholarship offer from California, so maybe there’s some untapped potential there.
It’s time for UT fans to start to think what happens with Guarantano or what happens with someone else. It would be an incredible story if Guarantano could suddenly elevate his play despite the many challenges he faces week-to-week. However, there is a distinct possibility that must be considered: Guarantano might simply not be as good as his 4-star, No. 1 dual-threat recruiting rating implied, and the Vols will have to eventually change course. It’s nearly impossible to win at a high level without an elite signal caller nowadays.
There have been whispers that UT coaches have been impressed with what little they have seen from Shrout. If Guarantano doesn’t prove elite and Shrout can’t even supplant Guarantano next year, then it’s all about recruiting.
Alabama and Clemson have proven that it’s not unheard of to try to upgrade your quarterback play with underclassmen, even when the previous starting QBs were playing at a championship level. Tua Tagovailoa has done so at Alabama. Trevor Lawrence is trying to do so at Clemson. It’s become obvious that high school quarterbacks are better prepared for college football than ever before.
If the Vols are going to improve their quarterback position via recruiting, it appears that that will depend on their lone quarterback commitment for the 2019 class: Brian Maurer from West Port High School in Ocala, Fla.
The 3-star prospect committed to the Vols over Ohio State, Texas A&M, Central Florida and several other smaller schools. The main competition was thought to be West Virginia when the dual-threat quarterback committed to UT in June.
Compare Tennessee’s situation to Florida’s. The Gators still aren’t exactly sure what they have in Feleipe Franks, who was part of the same class with Gaurantano. But Dan Mullen already landed a 4-star replacement in his first class, Emory Jones, and he has a commitment from another 4-star (Jalon Jones) in the 2019 class.
Jones is one of 26 quarterbacks in the 2019 class rated 4- or 5-stars. SEC teams have commitments from 9 of them. Alabama has 2 such commitments, including one from Taulia Tagovailoa, Tua’s younger brother. In order of the QB’s ranking, Auburn, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Mississippi State and Missouri account for the other seven. (Two 4-stars are undecided, including New Orleans’ dual-threat Lance LeGendre, who has an offer from Tennessee but is viewed as an LSU lock.)
Pruitt has yet to land a quarterback of that caliber. Shrout was the No. 50-ranked QB in the 2018 class, and Maurer is the No. 32 QB in the 2019 class.
But the game isn’t over. Pruitt’s Alabama ties helped the Vols when they were trying to recruit Taulia Tagovailoa before he committed to the Crimson Tide in April. The Vols surely won’t give up on the 4-star quarterback prospect from Thompson High School in Alabaster, Ala. Alabama’s 2019 class also includes 4-star QB Paul Tyson, great grandson of Bear Bryant. However, it seems unlikely that the younger Tagovailoa would change his commitment considering Tua is having an incredible season. That would seem to make Taulia’s decision pretty solid.
However, the Tagovailoas could actually help the Vols. Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts will be a graduate transfer after this season. If he has any sort of relationship with Pruitt, he could consider UT. However, that seems a bit of a long shot considering where Tennessee’s program stands and the amount of competition that will come calling for Hurts.
In the end, Guarantano might be that elite quarterback that many thought he was. However, if he’s not, it’s not time for UT fans to panic. It’s time for them to realize that a long-term change of path might not be such a bad thing. Several other college football programs are proving as much.
The question is: Can Pruitt land one?