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Quarterback Questions Arise After Salter’s Suspension

Kaidon Salter

The Tennessee quarterback battle will begin without one of their most anticipated prospects.

After Tennessee’s first spring football practice of 2021, first-year head coach Josh Heupel made a shocking announcement. 

Freshman quarterback Kaidon Salter did not practice on Thursday due to an internal suspension from football activities, according to Heupel.

“Kaidon was not on the practice field today,” said Heupel in a press conference that followed practice. “Kaidon is a part of the group of individuals that are suspended from team activities.”

On March 9, an incident occurred at Stokely Hall on the Tennessee campus that resulted in the arrest and indefinite suspension of three Tennessee football players. These players were sophomore Martavius French, and freshmen Aaron Willis and Issac Washington. According to Heupel, Salter was also involved in the incident.

What’s Next For The Quarterback Competition?

Going into spring practice, the original group that was expected to begin the competition for the quarterback job were Virginia Tech transfer Hendon Hooker, sophomore Harrison Bailey, redshirt sophomore Brian Maurer, and incoming four-star freshman Kaidon Salter.

With Salters’ suspension in effect, the Vols will be without one of their most anticipated additions to the roster.

After a lackluster ending to the Jeremy Pruitt era in the quarterback department, Heupel has made it clear that each quarterback would be getting a fresh start at the beginning of spring practice. With a new coaching staff comes new beginnings.

While just out of high school, many expected that Salter’s dynamic play would land him some consideration for the starting role. Especially knowing how Heupel and offensive coordinator Alex Golesh like to push the limits of their quarterback.

In 2019, Salter was named the District 7-6A MVP for Cedar Hill High School in Texas. In 2020 though, Salter would really add some awards to his collection.

The senior won the Texas High School Football Quarterback of the Year award, and also was named the Dallas Morning News’ 2020-21 Offensive Player of the Year in Texas.

But with the subtraction of Salter from the first round of evaluations, it’s tough to say just how large of a ripple effect it will have. 

The Remaining Quarterbacks Continue Their Head Start

On one hand, Salter was an intriguing prospect that could bring a different style of play, which could expand certain aspects of the playbook.

But on the other hand, he was the least experienced out of all four quarterbacks, which could have played into how he was used heading into the season.

Dec 5, 2020; Knoxville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Volunteers quarterback Harrison Bailey (15) hands the ball off to running back Eric Gray (3) during the first half against the Florida Gators at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Bailey and Maurer both have in-game inexperience for Tennessee, but with a fairly different lineup and completely different gameplan. So it’s hard to imagine their “Tennessee experience” outweighs just their overall experience playing at that level.

The last quarterback to be mentioned is the one that brings the most experience to the table, which could be beneficial from the start to a coaching staff that has to get adapted to all of their players in year one.

Junior transfer Hooker appeared in 24 games over the course of his three years with Virginia Tech, including eight games during the 2020 season. 

Ultimately, there is no definitive answer as to when Salter will see his first time on the practice field. Heupel did not have any answer during the press conference as to when these four individuals may return to the field. That will likely depend on the severity of the incident that occurred on campus.

Depending on when the suspension is lifted upon further investigation from Tennessee, Salter will undoubtedly be starting from behind the 8-ball though. Whenever his return may be, Hooker, Bailey, and Maurer, the three experienced quarterbacks on the roster, will have already had time to get actual on-field reps in front of the coaches.

Heupel followed his statement on Salter by addressing the timeline for what their return to the team may look like.

“That is being handled on campus and as we receive information we’ll act accordingly,” said Heupel. “There are high expectations, high standards to represent Tennessee football. At the same time, we’re going to stay true to those kids and support them as they go through this process. If we gain information, we’ll be able to share that.”

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