When Tennessee offensive coordinator Alex Golesh spoke to the media on Aug. 3, he gave a desired timetable for his four-man quarterback competition to get whittled in half.
"A week and a half is my goal to at least have a top two," he said.
With that timeline well past its expiration date, it would seem that neither sophomore Harrison Bailey, Virginia Tech graduate transfer Hendon Hooker nor Michigan grad transfer Joe Milton has taken the necessary step forward as the Sept. 2 season opener against Bowling Green at Neyland Stadium approaches. Or perhaps all three have, with only Brian Maurer failing to show the needed ingredients before recently entering the NCAA transfer portal.
"We tried to go in with a totally blank slate, because all three of those guys have played a bunch of football," Golesh said Wednesday. "Hendon finished his career at Virginia Tech, where he started 23 games, and you kind of had a feeling for what he could be because you saw it on film. Harrison finished last season here, and you knew bullets were flying for him because he was a freshman and an 18-year-old kid. Then you had Joe, who had a body of work, so we had a blank slate, and those guys split with the ones, twos and threes.
"We went through camp with a fourth, and we literally gave all of them an equal opportunity with the best skill guys and the best O-line. I didn't go in with the hope that one guy was going to win it and one guy wasn't. Obviously you want to clear the situation up, but you also hope there are three capable guys to go do it, and I truly believe we have three capable guys who can do it."
Tennessee will practice Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, but no media availability is scheduled after each of those workouts. The 2021 season will be the 125th for the Vols and their 100th in Neyland.
Golesh stated Wednesday that the starting quarterback will be head coach Josh Heupel's decision, adding that all three are "incredible human beings" as well as good students of the game.
"They are the model of what we want in a Vol football player - tough, blue-collar, gritty, hard-nosed football players," Golesh said. "Coach Heupel refers to it as 'poor, hungry and desperate,' and those three guys resemble that, which is what you want as a quarterback and what you want as a leader."
The Vols are treating this week like a normal game week, Golesh said, adding it has worked out well with school starting and with having two weeks to prepare.
"We don't have a vast menu of a million plays, hence we have to tighten it down and really prepare as if this Saturday was game day," he said. "I'm glad we have an extra four days, but I think we're about as ready as we're going to get."
As if the quarterback race hasn't provided enough discussion, there is now some vagueness as to how play calling will be handled. It's been considered Heupel's offense since his hiring in January, but specifics are not being provided on that subject either.
"We're working through all that right now," Golesh said. "We've genuinely done so much as a staff with so much coming in from what we were able to do at UCF with what (receivers coach) Kodi (Burns) has brought and what (running backs coach) Jerry Mack has brought, so we're working through it.
"At the end of the day, that's a good Coach Heupel question, and we'll kind of settle on that as we get closer to game day."
Can't have enough
Although Jabari Small and junior-college transfer Tiyon Evans are expected to be the top two running backs entering the opener, Golesh believes many more will compete.
"We really need four guys ready to rock and roll Sept. 2, and obviously those guys get nicked up as the season goes," Golesh said. "COVID is a real deal right now, so we've got to have five or six of those guys ready."
Yet another offense
Last year's starting quarterback for the opener at South Carolina was Jarrett Guarantano, who is now a graduate transfer at Washington State. Guarantano signed with Tennessee in 2016, when Mike DeBord was offensive coordinator, and also worked under Larry Scott, Tyson Helton and Jim Chaney.
"This is my fifth different offense," Guarantano told reporters last week in Pullman. "It's been a whirlwind."
The University of Tennessee announced Wednesday that facial coverings are encouraged for fans but will not be required for entry into Neyland Stadium or for movement throughout the seating bowl of the 102,455-seat facility.