KNOXVILLE — Just two weeks and five practices remain until Tennessee's preseason quarterback battle goes public at Neyland Stadium in the spring game.
If a leader is emerging in the competition to replace Josh Dobbs, coach Butch Jones and his assistants are staying quiet about who it is.
Both junior Quinten Dormady and redshirt freshman Jarret Guarantano have worked with the first-team offense in the first three weeks of spring practice, but a look at Jones' coaching history indicates a trend.
Even a standout showing from one of the two during the Orange and White Game on April 22 is unlikely to end the battle.
Entering his 11th season as a college head coach, Jones is presiding over his fifth true preseason quarterback competition and his third with the Volunteers. But only once during his time as a head coach has Jones ended the competition by naming a starter after spring practice.
That came in 2010, Jones' first year with Cincinnati, when he surprised few by tabbing Zach Collaros as the Bearcats' starting quarterback at the end of April. Most presumed it was Collaros' job to lose, after he posted impressive numbers in 2009 while playing in place of injured starter Tony Pike.facebook
There are fewer preconceptions in this year's case.
Tennessee's race is considered a tight battle between Dormady, who appeared in 10 games over the past two seasons as a backup, and Guarantano, an athletic phenom considered the best dual-threat quarterback in the 2016 signing class by 247Sports.com.
Redshirt sophomore Sheriron Jones and Will McBride, also scholarship quarterbacks and highly touted players, are adding depth to a competition that could last until the eve of the Vols' 2017 season opener against Georgia Tech in Atlanta, or beyond.
"You have to keep it in perspective," Coach Jones said Tuesday. "These are kids really going through their first spring. Jarett Guarantano is going through his first spring, Will McBride going through his first spring. So, as a coach, you've got to step back and say, 'It's all teaching points.' But I see them getting better and better and better."
Of the seven teams in the SEC East, only Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri started and ended the 2016 season with the same player starting at quarterback. Georgia quickly turned to true freshman Jacob Eason and South Carolina burned freshman Jake Bentley's redshirt midway through the season, but no freshman in the SEC East began the season as a starter.
Starting a freshman out of the gate can produce results, though.
Alabama gave the first snaps of its 2016 season to redshirt freshman Blake Barnett, before turning to true freshman Jalen Hurts, who guided the Crimson Tide to an SEC championship and an appearance in the national championship game.
The last time Tennessee started a freshman quarterback in the season opener was 2004, when coach Phillip Fulmer played a pair of true freshmen, Erik Ainge and Brent Schaeffer. The Vols won the SEC East that year.
Jones has never started a freshman at quarterback in a season opener, but he did turn to two freshmen as his first season at Tennessee progressed in 2013.
Here's how Tennessee's fifth-year coach has handled quarterback competitions throughout his career:
2007-09 Central Michigan
When Jones took his first head coaching job, he inherited a budding star in Dan Lefevour. Lefevour established himself as the clear starter during his freshman year, before Jones arrived, and remained the starter for Jones' three years at the school. Lefevour ranks No. 2 all-time in the NCAA for career touchdowns with 149.
Jones named Zach Collaros the starter at the end of April. It's the only time he has ended a preseason quarterback competition before preseason camp. The job was considered Collaros' to lose, after he played well in 2009 when starter Tony Pike was injured.
Collaros enters spring practice and preseason camp as the clear starter.
Jones named Munchie Legaux, a junior, the starter on Aug. 28, before the Sept. 6 season opener. Legaux beat out senior Brendon Kay for the job. Legaux had started three games when Collaros was injured in 2011, but he couldn't keep the job in 2012. He was benched in the first game of November and Kay started the rest of season.
Justin Worley, a junior, and redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman dueled in Jones' first spring practice with the Vols for the right to replace Tyler Bray as quarterback. No starter was named, but the two were listed as co-starters on the initial preseason camp depth chart. Camp also brought true freshmen Riley Ferguson and Dobbs into the mix.
Worley, like Dormady now, had game experience as a backup and was named the starter on Aug. 25, just a week before the opener against Austin Peay. After three games, Jones replaced Worley with Peterman against Florida. Peterman strugged and was injured against the Gators.
The job became Worley's again, until he was injured against Alabama. Dobbs took over and started the rest of the season. Ferguson redshirted.
Jones named Worley the starter on Aug. 14, after another four-way battle during the spring. Ferguson left the program before camp, reducing the competition to three. Dobbs was presumed to be redshirting, until an injury to Worley forced Peterman into action. Peterman struggled and Dobbs started the final five games.
Dobbs enters spring as the starter and starts all 13 games.
Dobbs enters spring as the starter and starts all 13 games.
Jones has two new key assistants to consult while making quarterback decisions. Larry Scott has been promoted to offensive coordinator in his second season with the program, and first-year quarterbacks coach Mike Canales brings a veteran eye.
Tennessee's young corps of wide receivers is also getting a first-hand glimpse at the quarterbacks. Like their coaches, the wideouts aren't revealing too much.
"I've seen (the quarterbacks) just working as hard as they can," sophomore receiver Tyler Byrd said. "Coach Canales is really pushing them, they're pushing him and everyone's pushing each other. The QBs are really in a heated battle, but at the end of the day they're all here together and we're all here together, and we're going to depend on each other."
Contact staff writer David Cobb at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6249.