KNOXVILLE — Jarrett Guarantano came into spring practices in position to elevate his play and be a factor in the quarterback race heading into fall training camp.

He completed 15 of 27 passes for 226 yards and 2 touchdowns as he led the Orange team over the White team 34-7 in the annual spring game.

He won MVP honors, but he hasn’t yet won the starting job.

Guarantano's Orange & White game completions
Under 10 yards: 7
10-20 yards: 4
20-30 yards: 3
30+ yards: 1

Stanford graduate transfer quarterback Keller Chryst arrives at Tennessee in June and could very well be the signal caller that Pruitt and offensive coordinator Tyson Helton are looking for.

“We will know who our quarterback is probably when we go to Charlotte about halfway through the fourth quarter,” Pruitt said following the Orange and White game. “We will have a good idea who our quarterback is at that point.”

There are areas that Guarantano has improved, but he has to continue being consistent in taking the next step of being a quarterback that can win the starting job.

Toughness

Guarantano passed the eye test this spring as he put in work in the weight room. His work ethic will allow him to be conditioned for a gauntlet of a season that lies ahead. Playing against Guarantano last season, Pruitt has mentioned he is tough because he continued to get up after being knocked around against Alabama.

Developing under Helton

Guarantano is benefiting from working with Helton, his quarterback coach and offensive coordinator. Helton has a long history of developing quarterbacks whether they were players he inherited or recruited.

But those strides are still a work in progress and Pruitt made it be known that there is still a lot of work remaining before handing over the reins to anyone.

Helton’s track record points to whomever his signal caller is, they will be improved. Helton turned now-country music star Sam Hunt into a near 2,000-yard passer in one season at UAB. He helped Joe Webb transition from a run-first quarterback into a passing threat and eventual NFL player. Bryan Ellis and Jonathan Perry also reached heights under Helton at UAB.

The same can be said for Brandon Doughty and Sam Darnold putting up video-game numbers at Western Kentucky and Southern Cal. They have all developed and improved under Helton. There’s a reason Helton is in Knoxville. Guarantano is the next project.

Here’s a look at how QBs have performed with Helton as their QB coach.

QB
School
Yards
TDs
Sam Hunt
UAB (2007)
1,905
10
Joe Webb
UAB (2008)
2,367
10
Joe Webb
UAB (2009)
2,299
21
Bryan Ellis
UAB (2010)
2,940
25
Jonathan Perry
UAB (2011)
2,042
10
Brandon Doughty
W. Kentucky (2014)
4,830
49
Brandon Doughty
W. Kentucky (2015)
5,055
48
Sam Darnold
USC (2016)
3,086
31
Sam Darnold
USC (2017)
4,143
26

Body language and mentality

When the stage is set for Guarantano to compete against Chryst during fall camp, how will he respond? Last year as the opening game unfolded against Georgia Tech and Quinten Dormady started and played every snap, Guarantano’s body language didn’t scream “all in,” which is what Pruitt demands.

That was last season. Different coach, different circumstances and not entirely Guarantano’s fault. But there were teaching moments throughout last season that he has grown from and that can help him in becoming more mentally prepared and focused to handle various situations this season.

Becoming a complete QB

In Helton’s offense, versatility is king.

“We’ve got to run to win. We’re going to run to win,” Helton said. “What does that mean, run to win? At some point in time, you’ve got to put the ball down and everybody knows you’re running the rock. That’s what we’re going to do. When it’s time to run it, we’re going to run it, we’re going to stick it up in there and we’re going to be good at it.”

But he also wants to be explosive and that showed during the Orange and White game by mixing the I-formation with shotgun sets and taking shots downfield.

“You have to be an explosive team,” Helton said. “When I say explosive, you’ve got to throw that sucker down there. You’ve got to make everybody in the stands stand up and take a deep breath and go, ‘Oh my God.’ We’re going to try to be an explosive-play team.

“You have to manage the game. We’re going to do a great job of managing the game and making sure we put our players in good situations to be successful. That’s what we’re looking for out of our offense.”

The quarterback, obviously, is key. Making smart decisions and tough throws are part of the equation. The game needs to continue to slow down for Guarantano from a decision making standpoint as he needs to see the field better.

There are still areas to be worked on in his passing game, but he has made strides in his goal to become the Vols’ starting quarterback.