After coming off the worst season in history, Jeremy Pruitt’s first spring is an important time or the new coaching staff to get a look at which players will lay the foundation for the Pruitt era.
Some starters may seem to be locked in at their respective positions, but you never know with a young player group and new coaching staff. One offseason can change a player for far better or far worse. With unfortunate departures and injuries, it will be interesting to see who steps up this spring. There’s still plenty of young talent on the roster to give Vol fans familiar faces to look forward to for the next couple of years. With spring practice looming, let’s take a look at the competition at quarterback and running back.
The quarterback battle will be the most exciting position to watch this season, especially with Tennessee looking for a more pro-style approach at quarterback under new offensive coordinator Tyson Helton. Currently, Helton will be working with two young, dual-threat quarterbacks.
Presumed starter Jarrett Guarantano returns looking to take over a role that most believed should have been his all of last season. The redshirt sophomore threw for 997 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions in nine games last season. Guarantano also took an astounding 26 sacks last season. That’s from some mix of Tennessee’s bad offensive line play or a result of him holding on to the ball too long, a problem the strong-armed quarterback will need to fix next season.
Battling with Guarantano this spring will be sophomore Will McBride. McBride had his redshirt burned last season when Guarantano went down in Tennessee’s win against Southern Miss. He made his first career start at Missouri the following week, throwing for a single touchdown and two interceptions while rushing for 63 yards on 14 attempts. McBride looked better than his stat line showed, so it’s unfair to judge him on that game alone.
Incoming quarterback JT Shrout will be given a shot to compete in the summer, once he enrolls. Helton said at the Vols’ 2018 singing day celebration in Knoxville he believed that Shrout was “a guy that I see that can come in and compete and try to see if he can go win a job.”
Looking For Graduates
The quarterback hunt may not be over. Stanford graduate transfer Keller Chryst has visited Knoxville to meet with the staff and players. Chryst holds an 11-2 record as a starter and has thrown for 1,926 yards, 19 scores and six interceptions in his career. His age and maturity could help him become the favorite to win the job if he chooses Tennessee.
The Vols’ staff might put its eggs in Chryst basket after another big graduate target, Gardner Minshew from East Carolina, reportedly is heading to Alabama.
The running back spot could be wide open now that John Kelly declared for the draft with a year of eligibility remaining. Kelly accounted for over 55 percent of the Volunteer rushing offense last season, so now Tennessee fans will get plenty of looks at what the rest can do. It will be interesting to see how the young backs develop under new running backs coach Chris Weinke rather than the familiar Robert Gillespie, who parted ways with Tennessee after February’s singing day.
The spotlight will be on sophomore Ty Chandler. Chandler exploded onto the scene in Week 2 against Indiana State with his kickoff return touchdown to begin the game. Later in the season, we saw Chandler dominate Kentucky in Kelly’s absence, going off for 153 total yards (120 rushing, 53 receiving) and two rushing scores. His big-play ability makes him the early favorite to be the featured back next season.
Joining Chandler is junior Carlin Fils-aime. Fils-aime is coming off a season of 215 yards on 31 attempts with two touchdowns. His best game (other than Indiana State) came alongside Chandler in Lexington, where he posted 73 yards on 13 carries while averaging close to six yards per attempt. Fils-aime, a former 4-star recruit per 247sports.com, will be Chandler’s biggest challenger for the lead-back role.
Sophomore Tim Jordan saw action in seven games last season, tallying 52 yards on 11 attempts. Jordan could step up big next season, despite his lack of appearances. Vol fans saw just a glimpse of him, but he runs in a similar physical style as John Kelly.
Rounding out the spring competitors is sophomore Trey Coleman. Coleman only saw action agaisnt Indiana State, where he rushed just four times for nine yards. He is a former 3-star recruit and is listed at 214 pounds, making him the biggest running back this spring. His running style is a physical, between-the-tackles style.
Incoming running back signee Jeremy Banks will also be competing later in the summer and fall, but isn’t an early enrollee.