Jeremy Pruitt is waiting to select a backup quarterback for Tennessee

Mike Wilson
Knoxville News Sentinel

Jeremy Pruitt isn’t ready to name Tennessee’s backup quarterback yet.

The Vols coach instead will keep the three-player battle rolling into preparations for South Carolina.

“It is still open-ended into the weekend,” Pruitt said Monday. “We will make a decision over the next couple of days and see who gives us the best opportunity.”

Sophomores Brian Maurer and J.T. Shrout as well as highly regarded freshman Harrison Bailey have competed to be Jarrett Guarantano’s primary reserve since the Vols opened preseason practices on Aug. 17.

No. 21 Tennessee opens its season against the Gamecocks on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network) in Columbia. 

Maurer was slowed in the preseason by a hamstring injury, while Bailey missed the first four practices while in quarantine because of COVID-19 contact-tracing protocol. 

“J.T. has obviously had an opportunity to take more reps,” Pruitt said. “We are giving both of those guys a chance.”

Maurer and Shrout both played in 2019 when Guarantano struggled as a junior. Maurer played in eight games and started four. Shrout played in four and started one.

Both had mixed results.

Maurer did not finish the four games he started. He left against Mississippi State and Alabama with concussions that caused him to miss two games. Guarantano replaced Maurer in the then-freshman’s two other starts.

Maurer completed 35 of 75 passes for 541 yards and two touchdowns with five interceptions. 

Shrout threw for 179 yards and a touchdown on 13-for-27 passing. 

“He’s seeing the field better than he did last year," offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said Monday at the Knoxville Quarterback Club. "I really believe that. He has more command of the offense. I think he’s playing with a lot more confidence. And confidence is everything. ...  I think his development is just familiarity. I’ll say it over and over again. It’s familiarity, familiarity, familiarity."

Bailey joined the mix as an early enrollee in the spring but practiced only twice before the pandemic halted spring football. Bailey was ranked as the No. 3 quarterback in the nation in the 247Sports Composite in the 2020 class.

“I think Harrison is going to be a solid football player for us here,” Chaney said on Aug. 27. “He looks to me like every other freshman quarterback I have had to deal with. They are just learning. The ones they know, they play quick and fine. 

“I am pleased with Harrison as he continues to develop.”

Guarantano, who has started 25 games in his Tennessee career, finished his turbulent 2019 season with high points in a terrific second half at Kentucky and a career night at Missouri. 

Pruitt said Monday he does not think the importance of a backup quarterback is any different this season than in a typical season despite the roster uncertainty created by the pandemic.

“Being able to have a No. 2 and No. 3 is absolutely always important,” Pruitt said. “We have got to continue to grow and develop those guys behind Jarrett.”

Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.