With just five practices left this spring, Tennessee's heated quarterback battle remains ongoing. Jarrett Guarantano and Quinten Dormady are competing for the top spot — and neither player is ready to cede the job to the other.
Both quarterbacks have their moments, so coach Butch Jones is ready to challenge the pair's ability to succeed when the chips are down.
Over the next week, Tennessee will work a bunch on situational football — particularly red zone, 2-minute drill stuff — putting the quarterbacks in adverse situations.
"They continue to improve," Jones said Tuesday.
"We have to a good job as coaches continuing to put them in demanding and challenging situations, particularly with situational football. How can they manage the situation? That's one of the things we'll work exceptional hard on Saturday. End of the game type scenarios. Second and goal on the four with 15 seconds to go in the game and no timeouts.
"All different things that can manifest or show up in the course of the long season. We're really trying to put them in those situations and see how they handle them. But I've liked their approach. We talk about compete, don't compare and I've seen that in the group. I've seen all those individuals get better."
With five practices to go, the focus for Jones is simply on the finish for his football team. Jones admittedly would like more practice time and would like to have fewer players missing practice because of injury. As a result of growing injury list, Jones said he and his coaching staff must be mindful of the roster.
“We have been very, very diligent in terms of rep counts and watching everyone to make sure we get quality reps,” Jones said. “It's not just quantity of reps, it's quality. And it's also the mental conditioning of it and the toughness. It's been a very, very productive spring. Now, it's how we finish. We have to continue to gain momentum going into the summer.”
As for the focus on the finish, Jones said there is plenty to work on but he's looking for improvement on a couple of specific things from each side of the ball.
“Just consistency and continued improvement. We have to become a much better tackling team and continue to take the ball away on defense and playing team defense in knowing where our run fits are," he said.
"Offensively, our style of play and our overall execution in handling pressure from all the different blitz looks from our defense. There is still a long ways to go with our football team. Our players have been very eager.”
THIGPEN FINDING COMFORT THIS SPRING
Citing several young players who have impressed him over the last few weeks, linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen is much more at ease this spring. Last fall, Tennessee's unit was devastated by injuries, forcing several players into action who weren't necessarily ready.
"Absolutely," Thigpen said when asked if all the injuries actually allowed the unit to grow. "When Maybin and DK (Kirkland) went down, Cortez had some playing experience, but not that much playing experience. And (Colton) Jumper was a new kid on the block that got experience. You can't ever underestimate guys getting experience and playing in front of that 102,000. I have a lot of experience in the room as far as knowing what to do and knowing their responsibilities and gap assignments. Being able help those young guys and make sure those young guys know those roles and take it seriously."
Thigpen had high praise for Cortez McDowell, Daniel Bituli, Austin Smith and Darrin Kirkland Jr on Tuesday afternoon. Smith ballooned up to 260 pounds after arriving and moved to defensive end. Back down in the 230s, the Georgia native is back to his old self and making plays sideline to sideline and emerging as an option at SAM linebacker.