Why is UT rotating quarterbacks? Jeremy Pruitt says Vols are 'looking for the future'
Jeremy Pruitt offered a succinct explanation Saturday for why Tennessee football is playing multiple quarterbacks in December.
“We are looking for the future,” Pruitt said.
The message is clear: Tennessee has fully welcomed the post-Jarrett Guarantano era since it lost at Auburn on Nov. 21. Pruitt made a change both because it was necessary and to essentially use the final three games to audition the current quarterbacks on the roster for the 2021 season.
Freshman Harrison Bailey has started two straight games. Sophomore J.T. Shrout has gotten extended opportunities in back-to-back weeks. Brian Maurer has played a handful of snaps.
The Vols (3-6) rolled with the Bailey and Shrout tandem to beat winless Vanderbilt 42-17 on Saturday in Nashville.
“We kind of stayed the course through the season,” Pruitt said. “The way (it went with) the stop and start and the getting these guys caught up a little bit gives us an opportunity. Just felt like it is the right thing to do just looking at how they practice and perform. There is not a whole lot of difference in any of them really.
“Getting that opportunity that means a ton for these guys to get some live action.”
It is an equally important opportunity for Tennessee’s coaches. It appears that Guarantano will not return for a sixth season, which he could do due to the NCAA giving players a free year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Vols moved on from Guarantano during their unplanned open week post-Auburn and have since been focused on their three young quarterbacks, especially Bailey and Shrout.
“They’re both young players,” Pruitt said. “The one thing they missed with fall camp is the opportunities to play in live situations. The way the season started early, it didn’t work out that way. So we’re giving them both opportunities.”
Bailey was efficient against the Commodores. He completed 14 of 18 passes for 207 yards and two touchdowns. Shrout displayed his major arm strength again, completing 6 of 13 passes for 90 yards and two touchdowns.
Maurer ran once for 22 yards before Pruitt said the sophomore got hurt.
Tennessee could have all three back next season. It also could conceivably lose either Maurer or Shrout — or both — to transfer. Shrout said after UT lost to Florida on Dec. 5 that he is “just worried about this season right now and competing with the boys” when asked if he had considered transferring.
The Vols will add quarterback recruit Kaidon Salter in January as an early enrollee. The Cedar Hill (Texas) product is ranked No. 157 overall in the 247Sports Composite. He figures to be in the competition for the starting spot immediately.
But before Salter arrives, Tennessee will evaluate the current quarterbacks on its roster.
Pruitt explained that Bailey and Shrout earned snaps through extra practices and reps as Tennessee’s schedule has fluctuated due to the pandemic. UT had two games — Vanderbilt and Texas A&M — postponed in November.
The Vols didn’t have a set plan for Bailey and Shrout at Vanderbilt (0-9). They were just going to play both. Bailey started again before Shrout entered in the second quarter. Bailey re-entered in the second half. Shrout played in the fourth quarter, but threw a bad interception and Bailey subbed in again.
The Vols close the season next Saturday at home against No. 5 Texas A&M (7-1) and figure to continue to audition for the future at quarterback.
“It’s hard to go play, and play at a high level at quarterback, if you don’t get a chance to take a lot of reps. I say that, it’s just the circumstances of having so many guys out just didn’t give them opportunities much.”
Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at email@example.com 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.