It’s no secret, Tennessee football coach Butch Jones is entering the 2017 with immense pressure. In fact, ESPN ranked Jones No. 1 in terms of SEC coaches facing pressure this spring.
Looking at what the Volunteers lost on both sides of the ball this offseason, one may assume the pressure may get the best of Jones and Tennessee. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who was the heart and soul of the team last year, has graduated. Defensive Derek Barnett left a year early to pursue the luxuries of the NFL. Plus, Tennessee suffered many more losses.
So how can Jones and Tennessee combat the pressure laid on them? The answer might be in the form of redshirt quarterback, Jarrett Guarantano.
In years past, the term “redshirt freshman” has caused eyes to grow wide and nerves to be rattled amongst fanbases. However, that isn’t the case anymore. Winning a quarterback competition as a redshirt freshman serves as proof of the potential the signal caller may possess.
Now, it’s not like Guarantano will be handed the keys to the Tennessee offense just like that. He will have to compete with two former four-star recruits, Quinten Dormady and Sheriron Jones. But Guarantano’s talent is no secret.
As a senior in high school, Guarantano only played in six games due to injury. But he still managed throw for 1,592 yards and 12 touchdowns on 126-of-176 passing. Guarantano also added 304 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground. He earned a four-star rating and was the No. 4 dual-threat quarterback in the 2016 class according to Rivals.
Not only does Guarantano have the talent, but college football has seen a growth of young signal callers leading their team into the national spotlight.
Last season, Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts made first team All-SEC and led the Crimson Tide to the national championship game. Also, South Carolina’s Jake Bentley, Georgia’s Jacob Eason and Ole Miss’ Shea Patterson all saw action as freshmen.
Two of the past Heisman winners were redshirt freshman signal callers, Johnny Manizel at Texas A&M, and Jameis Winston at Florida State. Former Heisman winner, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, flashed the talent that made him a Heisman victor as a redshirt freshman. He completed 68.2 percent of his passes for 2,677 yards, 32 touchdowns and only six interceptions.
While it has become a norm for freshman and redshirt freshman to start at the most important position on the field in college football, Tennessee has history relying on freshmen and being ahead of the trend. Joshua Dobbs started as a freshman. Peyton Manning did as well for the Volunteers. Since 1993, six freshmen have started at quarterback in Knoxville.
Now, the argument can be made that why would Jones want to start Guarantano if he has yet to take a collegiate snap while Dormady has? Well, despite not taking a snap, Guarantano has experienced the luxuries that come with redshirting.
Guarantano has already made the transition from high school to college, plus he has had a full year to learn and master a majority of the playbook. Also, he has had a year to be in a college strength and conditioning program, which, for a player like Guarantano who starred as a runner and passer, can do wonders for him.
Despite not taking a snap, Guarantano reminds many of Dobbs. A tall (he stands 6-foot-4), accurate passer who can run the ball. Jones’ spread offense is more effective when a mobile, athletic signal caller is running the show.
So if Guarantano does start for the Volunteers in 2017, fans should not be worried. They should feel encouraged that Tennessee has a quarterback who has the talent to combat the pressure that is placed on the Volunteers entering this season.