Deciding Tennessee's starting quarterback for 2021 a 'six-month process'

UCF Athletics photo / New Tennessee offensive coordinator Alex Golesh, pictured, said Wednesday afternoon that coach Josh Heupel's offensive system can work with both a mobile quarterback and a pocket passer.

Who will be the starting quarterback for the Tennessee Volunteers in 2021?

Check back in August.

New Tennessee offensive coordinator Alex Golesh met with the media Wednesday afternoon along with the other new offensive assistants who are under the guidance of Josh Heupel. The Vols will begin spring practice next month with a quarterback quartet of junior Brian Maurer, sophomore Harrison Bailey, Virginia Tech graduate transfer Hendon Hooker and early enrollee Kaidon Salter.

The four are different in their sizes and skill sets, but they have one very obvious thing in common - starting from square one in a different system.

"At the quarterback position in particular, it's going to be who can grasp it the quickest, who can operate within the system and who can excel in the system," Golesh said. "I know we don't have that answer right now, and I don't think we will have that answer at the end of spring. This is going to be a six-month process that gets us to week one, and you roll with the guy who you feel is the most prepared and the most most functional in running the offense.

"Those guys are so uniquely different, and at the end of the day, it's who can create plays, who doesn't turn the ball over and who can continue to get us positive yardage. If that's with their feet, then great, and if it's with their arm, that's great also. Obviously a young man who can run certainly helps, because it creates a different dimension to the entire offense, but we can adjust. At the end of the day, we're going to play with the best 11 guys on the field."

The 6-foot-5, 225-pound Bailey completed a whopping 70.6% of his passes as a freshman and started Tennessee's final three games, but the 6-4, 220-pound Hooker brings 21 career appearances with the Hokies and averaged 5.2 yards per rush last season to go along with his 63.1% accuracy. The 6-3, 195-pound Maurer played sparingly last season but showcased his running with a 15-yard carry against Alabama and a 22-yarder versus Vanderbilt, while the 6-2, 185-pound Salter was the No. 6 dual-threat talent in the 2021 signing class.

'There are guys here who have played, and Hendon has played at Virginia Tech for a considerable amount," Golesh said. "It's going to be a matter of force-feeding it and seeing who can handle it from a mental aspect and who can handle it from a physical aspect. The way the offense is built, you don't have to say that it's got to be an ultra-mobile quarterback or a pocket passer. So much of this offense revolves around the quarterback and being able to manage it and being able to operate within the system.

"It happens really fast, and really that's across the board at every position. You've got to be able to process information quickly and process defensive looks quickly."

Heupel will call the plays for an offense with incredible staff familiarity.

Golesh, who will oversee the tight ends in addition to being coordinator, offensive line coach Glen Elarbee and quarterbacks coach Joey Halzle each worked with Heupel at the University of Central Florida last season. New Vols receivers coach Kodi Burns, who spent the past five years at Auburn, had actually been hired by Heupel at UCF before Heupel left for Knoxville, so he has a taste of the system as well.

The only true newcomer is running backs coach Jerry Mack, who spent the past three seasons as Rice's offensive coordinator.

"It's a great group of men who will do a tremendous job of instilling confidence, energy and passion," Heupel said. "We're going to play with tempo. We're going to play in space. We're going to apply pressure to the defense consistently, and we've got a group of guys here ready to lead that charge."

Said Golesh: "We've all worked together in some capacity and have brought Jerry Mack into that, and it's just going to be an incredible opportunity for us to hit the ground running. We already have."

'The scariest blend'

Elarbee is working with Heupel for a sixth consecutive year, having served as offensive line coach when Heupel was Missouri's offensive coordinator in 2016-17 and UCF's head coach from 2018-20.

"Heup was the scariest blend of the best human being that I had been around who actually cares about people and family who is also a freaky smart guy," Elarbee said. "He's highly intelligent, and I had never been around anyone that genuine and that smart at the game of football. I've wanted to work for him ever since I met him."

Brown in portal

Cody Brown, the four-star running back from Parkview High School in the Atlanta suburb of Lilburn who signed with the Vols in December, has received a release from his national letter of intent and has entered the NCAA transfer portal.

"Thank you to the Tennessee coaches and staff that recruited me and made me a part of their family," Brown posted Wednesday on Twitter. "Most of all, thank you Vol Nation for the support and love you have given me throughout my commitment. After a lot of thought and consideration, my family and I have decided that it would be best for me to reevaluate my options and put my name into the transfer portal."

The 6-foot, 217-pounder was the No. 10 running back nationally, according to the 247Sports.com composite rankings.

Martinez returning

Willie Martinez, UCF's secondary coach and assistant head coach the past three seasons, is returning to Tennessee for a second stint at overseeing the defensive backs. Martinez worked for the Vols under Butch Jones from 2013-16.

Yahoo Sports was the first to report the hiring Wednesday night.

Martinez is best remembered for his nine seasons at Georgia (2001-09), with the last five of those as defensive coordinator. The Bulldogs won Southeastern Conference championships in 2002 and 2005 and finished No. 2 in the country in 2007.

After being let go at Georgia by Mark Richt, Martinez spent the 2010-11 seasons at Oklahoma and the 2012 season at Auburn.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.