KNOXVILLE - For the third time this month, the Tennessee Volunteers are dealing with uncertainty at quarterback.
Only this time, instead of questions about who will start Saturday's Southeastern Conference game against South Carolina, the Volunteers are pretty sure who is likely not to be behind center.
Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt said Wednesday during the weekly SEC teleconference that freshman Brian Maurer was "probably doubtful" to play against the visiting Gamecocks (3-4, 2-3). Maurer sustained a concussion in the first quarter of last week's 35-13 loss at top-ranked Alabama, and on Wednesday he was at Vanderbilt Medical Center for further testing.
He hasn't practiced all week, meaning his absence would leave Tennessee (2-5, 1-3) with redshirt junior Jarrett Guarantano and redshirt freshman J.T. Shrout as the lone scholarship options at quarterback for the 4 p.m. game that will be televised by the SEC Network.
"We're giving both the same amount of reps," Pruitt said. "We're down to two (scholarship) quarterbacks for probably this week, and J.T.'s not taking as many reps in the last couple of weeks. Both of them are taking the same amount of reps. Obviously Jarrett has way more experience and has taken more reps in the offense over the last seven, eight weeks, so catching J.T. up, getting him locked in, doing some things that he's comfortable with is important for our staff and important for him."
Guarantano is by far the more experienced option, with 18 consecutive starts before losing his job to Maurer prior to the Georgia game on Oct. 5. He replaced Maurer the following week against Mississippi State when the freshman exited late in the first half due to injury, with Guarantano helping the Vols win 20-10.
He struggled in relief of Maurer last Saturday, though, and had what the Vols have called a miscommunication at the goal line, leading to a fumble that was recovered by the Crimson Tide and returned 100 yards for a score in a 14-point swing that put the game away. He was replaced on the Vols' final two series by Shrout, a 6-foot-3, 213-pounder from Santa Clarita, California, who has only thrown 10 passes all season, completing three for 23 yards.
"J.T.'s a guy that has a really good arm, very good competitor," Pruitt said. "He's a guy that is growing into the position. Every practice we've ever had, he makes lots of explosive plays, because he's got really good arm talent. He comes from a high school where it was more of a kind of a throw it 50, 60 times a game (offense), and that's not exactly what we're doing, so there's things from getting under center and changing some plays at the line of scrimmage, controlling the protection and things like that that he's learning.
"He's a smart guy, and he's going to continue to improve at practice. The guy's never flinched this whole year. He just keeps going to work, and he understands the areas that he needs to work on and improve as a player, which is going to enable him to have a chance to be a really good player one day."