Experts praise Vols’ QB status; Super Bowl coach checks in; Hoke urges “tougher, more physical” D-Line

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It is, without question, especially in this time of college football, almost an embarrassment of riches for the University of Tennessee at the quarterback position.

Can or will it remain that way? Hard to determine a scant week into a QB derby that’s not going anywhere and features two gritty competitors, Quinten Dormady and Jarrett Guarantano, who similarly are not about to blink.

But I reached out to three different personnel/football staffers in three different conferences, with each team going bowling numerous times in recent seasons, and got strong reports on the Vols’ depth chart at signal-caller.

Plus, I reached out to some NFL folks as well. Once again, the feedback was remarkable.

A person intricately involved in this year’s NFL Draft, who cannot speak on the record about players still in college, didn’t hold back Tennessee’s enviable situation.

“I would say they are set up as Ohio State was their national title year,” said the person, who was in Indianapolis the entire week of the combine. “Two really good, young quarterbacks who both have unlimited potential. Along with Sheriron (Jones), they could have one of the better quarterback rooms in the country just based off the potential in that room.”

One of the collegiate sources took a more pragmatic approach at the pros and cons.

“Competition is never a bad thing,” he said. “I really feel like iron sharpens iron in this situation. Two confident guys who know they can sling it.

“The worry you have is in-game football. What personalities change when the bullets start flying. Coaches have to put the best guy on the field but also have to make sure their systems fit whichever guy that is.”

That last sentiment was a recurring one, emphasizing the importance of coaches tailoring a system to players’ strengths rather than trying to tailor players to a system.

“The only question on Dormady is if he’s a Pro Style guy, does Butch let him have the job and adjust his play-calling and offense to Dormady,” said another college source who also owns NFL experience. “Or does he try to make Dormady move and do the offensive stuff he’s run the last 10 years. …

“I expect J.G. can win (the job) … and in his redshirt-sophomore year I think he may be the class of that conference.”

While Guarantano, a relentless worker and as polished and prepared as any true freshman I’ve seen as part of the Vols’ 2016 signing class in my 16-straight years on the beat, worked with George Whitfield during spring break, Dormady got in time with some NFL gunslingers down in Orlando including Aaron Murray and worked with noted QB guru Jeff Christensen once again, as Christensen and Dormady also worked together last spring.

“I mean, I threw with them in May last year as well, and I think them going through this whole process there’s a lot to take from them,” Dormady said. “Obviously just competing with them as well was good.”

Added another person from this year’s NFL combine who likewise cannot speak on the record, “Guarantano is a big, mobile and elusive guy. He’s already been working with QB guru George Whitfield, who has said good things. With continued added weight, he could develop into a Cam Newton-type of player.

“Dormady is a big QB with an NFL arm. Not overly mobile but can move around the pocket nicely and buy time. … Could become an NFL starter.”

SPEAKING OF THE NFL …

Word is that none other than Bill Belichick was in Knoxville in recent days to take a look at some of the Vols’ upcoming draft-eligible players and most notably getting a lengthy look at Derek Barnett. Folks in Nashville indicate Belichick likewise hit the Music City to check in on Vandy All-American Zach Cunningham. It’s possible Belichick also hit Chattanooga to check out Mocs’ DL Keionta Davis, who also was invited to the NFL Combine.

Speaking of Chattanooga, Tom Arth, the Mocs’ first-year head football coach and former backup quarterback to Peyton Manning with the Colts for a brief time, will speak at the annual Butch Jones Coaching Clinic beginning April 6.

HOKE SENDS CLEAR MESSAGE ON NATION …

Brady Hoke joined ESPN’s Chris Low and myself Sunday night on the statewide syndicated radio show ‘The Nation,’ and the veteran head coach repeatedly emphasized a desire for increased physicality and toughness from his group of defensive linemen — regardless of the Vols’ injury-depleted numbers.

“You’ve got to be physical and tough-minded up front to win championships on defense, and that’s something that’s exciting and is a great opportunity and great challenge for us to go out there and do the job,” Hoke said on the show. “I think Rock has done a great job in the weight room, I think he’s done a great job of how we want to improve our guys from an explosive standpoint and some toughness issues. I think you always have to push your team. It starts in there.

“There’s a little bit of terminology that’s different that I use, and that’s part of what these guys have to understand and understand the different fundamentals and techniques. Steve Stripling, I’ve known a long time and he’s a dad-gone good coach.”

Hoke said the physicality in Saturday’s first day in shells did not meet expectations.

“We’ve got to get better in that aspect, and I’m going to be honest,” Hoke said. “I know they’re very willing, and I think we just have to understand the physicalness that we need to play with. That’s a premium, from a toughness to a mental aspect in pushing ourselves through and being aggressive on the line of scrimmage.”

Hoke said despite the absence of numerous key figures along the front, which as I noted prior to spring included Kendal Vickers, Kyle Phillips, Shy Tuttle and others, he could not compromise on setting the standard.

“Well, you don’t (have great numbers), but you can’t use that as an excuse,” Hoke said. “In the game of football, it’s a physical game, it’s a mental toughness game and that’s at every position. We’ve got to just keep persevering. We’ve got to get better from day to day, from what we’re visually seeing and playing techniques and different alignments that we’ll play. … Checklist of pre-snap reads, splits of offensive line, all those things. If we do a great job in fundamentals and they become second-nature, you’re going to play with toughness. We’re getting into football shape right now.

“We talk in our room defensively as a defensive line, we always want to be the predator, never the prey. It’s that mindset we want to have.”

Hoke praised the developments of both Jonathan Kongbo and Darrell Taylor at the ends.

“Jonathan Kongbo, he’s a guy I tried to recruit to Oregon; Darrell Taylor (he knows as well),” Hoke added. “You lose two very good, really three guys with Barnett, (Corey) Vereen and LaTroy (Lewis), Those two guys at end, I’m excited about where they are right now but I’m more excited about the progress we’re going to make.

“You’ve got to be physical and tough-minded up front to win championships on defense, and that’s something that’s exciting and is a great opportunity and great challenge for us to go out there and do the job.”

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7 thoughts on “Experts praise Vols’ QB status; Super Bowl coach checks in; Hoke urges “tougher, more physical” D-Line

    1. Only way they don’t both get snaps, IMO, is one is injured or otherwise. Yes, I’ve been saying I fully expect both to play that game; would not be surprised to see both start multiple games unless one just wholly seizes command.

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  1. Was the NFL source Jon Gruden? Because it sounds a lot like Jon Gruden. Maybe it’s Jay Gruden, who probably receives weekly calls from Jon salivating about the Vols.

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