Vols' quarterback battle: Which direction will Butch Jones go?
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee quarterback race has entered the final stage.
All eyes are on junior Quinten Dormady and redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano to decide who replaces Josh Dobbs as the starter. The winner will become the sixth quarterback to start a season since Phillip Fulmer left Tennessee following the 2008 season: Jonathan Crompton (2009), Matt Simms (2010), Tyler Bray (2011, 2012), Justin Worley (2013, 2014) and Josh Dobbs (2015, 2016).
Who’s ahead? Who should win the job?
I discussed the battle with fellow Vols reporter Cody McClure of the Cody McClure Show on Knoxville’s WVLZ radio station and writer for Athlon Sports.
Where are we in the QB race and what’s most likely to happen?
Dan Harralson: Butch Jones’ track record at Tennessee is to play the guy with the most experience at quarterback. Jones chose Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman over Josh Dobbs. That could play a factor in this battle. Will the fifth-year head coach go against his grain?
Jones mixed up a few things with his revised coaching staff this spring. He wasn’t shouting as many directions over the bullhorn at practices, for instance, choosing instead to oversee his staff. Will this “new” version of Jones change how he’s viewed quarterback competitions?
Right now it is hard to ignore Dormady as the starter against Georgia Tech based on Jones’ track record for placing a premium on experience.
Cody McClure: I say Dormady will get the first crack at it. I do not want to put too much stock into what he did in the spring game because; first of all I do not know how good Tennessee’s secondary is with the receivers wide open.
Dormady had 10 pass attempts and Guarantano only had five. It seemed like to me that Tennessee is more comfortable throwing when Dormady is on the field and playing a little more conservative and running the ball a little more when Guarantano’s on the field. But you can’t take too much out of the spring game since we didn’t see certain things out of Guarantano.
What is the case for Jarrett Gaurantano?
Harralson: Guarantano is a dual-threat quarterback, so his style is more similar to Dobbs’. He’s a redshirt freshman, but plenty of true freshmen stepped in and did big things in the SEC last season. Redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks might win the Florida job this season. Jalen Hurts, Jacob Eason, Shea Patterson and Jake Bentley all started as true freshmen last season. Age shouldn’t be the sole qualifier, in other words.
There is a bit more of the unknown with Guarantano, however. Because quarterbacks are off-limits for contact during practice, he might not have many chances to display his running attack until an actual game. From the outside, that could make it seem as though Dormady looks better in practice.
But Guarantano has an advantage in that opposing defenses don’t have a lot of film on him. Sometimes you have to play a guy to see if his skills translate to success on the field even if they are the younger guy.
McClure: Guarantano has the intangibles and the question is how important is that for Butch? How much will Butch keep that in consideration? You have to wonder how Guarantano’s legs will be a factor in deciding who will be the starter.
What is the case for Quinten Dormady?
Harralson: Dormady brings a strong arm to the huddle. He also has experience in his favor — if not a lot of actual game reps — which could propel him as the early starter based on Jones’ track record. He’s certainly a pro-style passer, but it’s unfair to say Dormady can’t run. The junior quarterback is a timely runner who can pull it down in man coverage and pick up yards if he cannot find a window in coverage.
McClure: Dormady is the better pure passer and way further along in Butch’s offense. He is a better passer than Dobbs was at this time in his career, which will bring more to the offense. The offensive line also plays into Dormady’s favor in the passing game, with threats at wide receiver.
Jones recruited both guys, so it’s not even a case of him wanting his guy over the other guy. Has he upgraded his guy over Dobbs?
Harralson: Dobbs will probably go down alongside Casey Clausen as the most under-appreciated quarterbacks at Tennessee. Time will show that Dobbs’ production should have been much more respected. Both Dormady and Guarantano have a chance to be good quarterbacks, in their own way, but as far as an upgrade from Dobbs – that’s a high bar that isn’t likely to be met in 2017.
McClure: When it comes to the main thing you want in a quarterback, which is the ability to throw the football, I think it is an upgrade, at least from where Dobbs was at this point in his college career and where these guys are now.
Dormady is a junior and is a better passing quarterback than Dobbs was going into his junior year. I think Guarantano is also an upgrade as far as his arm compared to where Dobbs was at this time in his career.
But keep in mind, Dobbs finally got to the point in the last five games or so where he was finally playing like a college quarterback and that is hard to replace.
Will UT be more of a passing team this year?
Harralson: I think so. The weapons and experience are on the outside this year, and with a threat at tight end with Ethan Wolf, that creates opportunities for a young run game. As long as the passing game is efficient, it also creates running spaces for whomever becomes the quarterback. The receiving depth could play dividends with an upgraded offensive line that is loaded with depth and talent that will provide protection.
McClure: The potential is there. I think offensively everyone talks about who you have to replace. As long as one of these quarterbacks ends up being decent, there are enough weapons around them with the receivers along with the offensive line being a strength, either quarterback will be coming into a comfortable situation unlike Dobbs did.
Who starts the opener against Georgia Tech?
Harralson: As I said, right now, it’s hard to ignore Dormady’s experience.
McClure: Dormady will get the first shot, but I can see a two-quarterback system, too.