Question at quarterback

Marvin WestFeature, westwords

When there is a question at quarterback, Tennessee fans get very excited.


Who will win the job? Will the runner-up transfer? What about depth? Is the QB of the future on campus or still on the recruiting board?

Those supposedly in the know say the current race is between the incumbent, Jarrett Guarantano, and graduate transfer Keller Chryst. Will McBride and JT Shrout are important but a lap back.

Nobody has said it out loud but the winner is not expected to gather individual honors. There are no all-Americans in the mix. The best hope is for somebody to help make the offense stronger and not lose the game.

Guarantano has been working like heck to get better this off-season. Chryst didn’t zoom in from Stanford to sit on the bench. We and they may get the answer in late August about who does what. It might take longer. Taking longer has happened before.

Doug Dickey invented Tennessee quarterbacks in 1964 and ushered three through kindergarten. Rugged tailback Hal Wantland was first under center. He was soon redeployed as a wingback. Former dining room waiter David Leake had a trial run.

Art Galiffa got the job at halftime against Mississippi State in Memphis. His highlight was a Statue of Liberty play. I recognized it but the Bulldogs didn’t. Touchdown Tennessee!

Galiffa produced 338 yards in his part of that season. He threw one touchdown pass, to Whit Canale, against Alabama.

Tennessee quarterbacking was more stable and productive in 1965. Charley Fulton was a dual threat. Dewey Warren moved up from the scout squad and launched his legendary career. The Swamp Rat was a fearless passer who defied the rush and stood firm in the pocket. He was not a great runner but he had a historic run, a one-yard sweep that took almost forever. UCLA pretended to be stunned when the head linesman raised his arms to signal a touchdown.

Ah yes, I remember it well. So do thousands of others. If everybody who says they saw it had really been in Memphis, the stadium would have had to be doubled in size.

The quarterback story often goes beyond the season-opening choice. In relatively recent years, Tennessee has presented multiple starters eight times. Six times it needed three quarterbacks to get through a season.

The unforgettable 1985 Sugar Vols went from Tony Robinson to Daryl Dickey. In 1989, Sterling Henton beat out Andy Kelly in August and started the first half of the season. Coach John Majors made a switch during the Alabama game.

There was a revolving door in ’94. Jerry Colquitt suffered a career-ending injury on the seventh play of the opener. Todd Helton was next in line. He was injured against Mississippi State.

Coach Phillip Fulmer was left with freshmen Peyton Manning and Branndon Stewart. You know how that turned out. Stewart transferred to Texas A&M.

In 2000, Joey Mathews, A.J. Suggs and Casey Clausen played quarterback. In 2002, it was Clausen, C.J. Leak and James Banks.

The Vols approached 2004 with a premeditated two-quarterback system – very young Erik Ainge and Brent Schaeffer. Brent became the first true freshman to start an opener for an SEC team since Georgia’s John Rauch in 1945.

By early November, Ainge and Schaeffer were ailing or lost. Rick Clausen, next man up, led the team into the SEC championship game.

In 2010, the Vols opened with Matt Simms. Freshman Tyler Bray took the job in November. In 2011, Bray, Justin Worley and Simms played.

In 2013, Butch Jones’ first season as coach, Worley was the designated starter. In the fourth game, against Florida, Nathan Peterman was thrown into the fire. Bad decision, very bad. Peterman was nowhere near ready. A weaker young man might have been destroyed.

Worley returned as the regular until injured against Alabama. Fortunately, Joshua Dobbs was ready and waiting.

Reviewing quarterback scrambles leads to the conclusion that there is often uncertainty and sometimes high drama. Uncertainly we have for sure. Jeremy Pruitt will determine the degree of drama.

How he handles the competition will be critical. The primary issue will be choosing a winner. Almost as important will be keeping the contingent intact. Somehow.

Marvin West invites reader reactions. His address is marvinwest75@gmail.com

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