Spring primer: Keys to the quarterback battle
Tennessee's starts spring practice next week with plenty of storylines surrounding Butch Jones' fifth football team on Rocky Top. Each day this week, the Volquest staff will discuss five questions of note for the Vols heading into 15 key workouts. Today, we look at what the quarterbacks have to do to win the job?
All eyes will be on Quinten Dormady and Jarrett Guarantano this spring, but spoiler alert, Tennessee won’t tab either gunslinger as its starter for another five months.
The next several weeks are simply about both guys getting ample opportunities to work with teammates and show their command of the offense.
Dormady, who has 357 yards on just 39 career attempts, will participate in his third spring at Tennessee. He’s big, more mobile than most think and probably has the best pure arm-talent on the roster. Meanwhile, Guarantano was a blue-chip prospect for a reason. He’s a phenomenal athlete with a cannon.
It’s not hard to envision a scenario where either guy outright earns the job or where neither separates themselves and Tennessee is forced to play both early in 2017.
For Dormady, his mop-up game experience doesn’t mean a whole lot, but his time in the program could prove very beneficial if he’s able to showcase his ability to lead others, command the offense and bounce-back from mistakes.
Guarantano is still a puppy. He’s going to ‘Wow’ folks plenty of times, while giving coaches headaches two plays later. Confidence and moxie aren’t problems for JG, but consistency — especially taking care of the football — will be paramount for the redshirt freshman. He must maintain an even-keeled approach to a what’s likely to be a months-long battle.
As much as Sheriron Jones would love to be a viable candidate in this race, he is not. So let's look at Jarrett Guarantano and Quinten Dormady. Dormady comes in with the actual playing time, but it isn't enough to sway the pendulum in his favor. I would argue that some of his live game action has been poor dating back to the bowl game two years ago with several throws off of his back foot. Both he and Guarantano have been attacking workouts and social media as if they are the starter. Guarantano sat last season in what was a tough few months for him because other freshmen (Eason, Patterson and others) were all seeing action.
For Dormady to win the job he is going to need to show the ability to avoid pressure, make solid throws under pressure and use very good mechanics. He has a big arm, but it's only effective if you use quality mechanics and footwork. He is the less athletic of the two, so he needs to show his better than people give him credit for athleticism and prove this offense can flourish with him at the helm. As for Guarantano, he needs to showcase an ability to smoothly run the offense and be smart with the football. Guarantano has a big time arm, but that doesn't mean every throw has to be the flashy one. Sometimes the check down to the back coming out of the backfield is the right read. This competition is one that hasn't been seen around here since the Ainge/Clausen battle in 2005. For Tennessee's sake, fans better hope the guy that actually wins the competition this time is named starter come this fall.
At that position, leadership comes with the territory. So before spring practice even begins, those guys are going to have to show their teammates that they have the intangibles to handle everything that comes with the quarterback position.
Both Dormady and Guarantano seem to have those kind of qualities you’re looking for at the position. Both carry themselves with a little bit of swagger, nothing remotely cocky, but they’re both confident young guys.
On the field I would guess Dormady may come of as a little more polished simply from his longer time in the program and working with the offense. To win the job, he’ll need to take full advantage of his edge in experience and command of the system. As a passer, I think he’ll probably be a little more accurate, though I don’t think it’s a wide margin.
I think Guarantano needs to let his athleticism shine through. To me, his ability to make plays with his feet is the wild card in this competition. He may not be quite the runner Josh Dobbs was, but the freshman is one elusive individual who brings a dimension to the game that Dormady just doesn’t have as a playmaker when things break down.
Both guys need to limit mistakes and earn the trust of their coaches. Guarantano needs to show that he’s not an athlete playing the position (I don’t think he is). Dormady needs to look like the more experienced, veteran guy who doesn’t get rattled.
I doubt this gets settled in the spring and I also would add that I think Butch Jones is picking between a couple of pretty good options here.
The battle will be labeled as a three man competition, but the reality is that everyone expects it to be a Guarantano/Dormady slugfest. And it will be a battle that's likely to not end this spring. Now, if someone is so far ahead of the other then Butch Jones might not have a choice, but I firmly believe his plan is for this to be a battle into August.
So let's look at Dormady first. The Texas native is entering his third spring and clearly believes this is his time. He's tried to lead all winter and has been improving his bond with his teammates. Dormady has terrific accuracy and is a better athlete than he's ever been given credit for being. Dormady's challenge this spring is to play the game faster.
Dormady clearly took some strides from year one to year two upping his completion percentage and after being sacked three times as a freshman he wasn't sacked in 17 attempts last season. But he must play the game on time in terms of his execution with the passing game.
As for Guarantano, I think his key to to not press. Both will feel the pressure to win the job everyday but Guarantano's patience were put to the test last fall as he redshirted. He's a confident player short on patience so he will have to not try and make the great play all time. He has all the tools, big arm and athletic, but can he manage the game. That's his biggest challenge this spring.