By Jimmy Hyams
Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano hasn’t received much preseason support for All-SEC.
In fact, those without bias have typically projected the redshirt junior to be rated the seventh or eighth best quarterback in the SEC.
That’s understandable. Guarantano didn’t post eye-popping numbers last season and his team went 5-7, 2-6 in the SEC.
To make All-SEC at quarterback, you better win or dominate statistically.
Last season, Guarantano threw for 1,907 yards and 12 touchdowns. That’s half-a-season if you play at Oklahoma, Washington State, or even Alabama.
But Guarantano has a man in his camp who believes the strong-armed product of New Jersey is ready for big things.
“He’s going to have a big-time season,’’ said New Jersey’s Tony Racioppi, who has worked with Guarantano during the offseason. “I’m excited to see him do it because he deserves it.’’
Racioppi said Guarantano has all the attributes to be a top-notch college quarterback: arm strength, touch, fundamentals, work ethic.
“He’s really developed the ability to make the second-level throws with touch and take some pace off the football, whether its digs or the deep over routes, getting the football over the linebackers,’’ Racioppi said.
“He has always been the kid who can throw it really far, throw it really hard. And now he can adjust his pace and tempo.’’
Racioppi also said Guarantano can throw the deep comeback “on a line.’’ And during the recent Manning Passing Academy, Guarantano aired one out at least 65 yards, Racioppi said.
Unlike some kids who have played strictly in the shotgun and don’t have the fundamentals to take a five or seven step drop, Racioppi said Guarantano has no issue with footwork on drops.
“He did a seven-step play-action and really ripped the ball on an 18-yard dig, which is a big-time throw in the NFL,’’ Racioppi said. “And he made it look effortless.’’
Racioppi said Guarantano “absolutely’’ and “without a doubt’’ is better than the No. 8 quarterback in the SEC.
“Sometimes people get lost because the team around them is not great, nor is the system,’’ Racioppi said. “Just like on the flip side, I’ve had some guys that looked a lot better because they had studs around them, and they had a guy (coach) who could develop schemes and call great plays.’’
Racioppi said it was “neat to see’’ Guarantano throw just three interceptions last year.
Racioppi said confidence is a key to playing quarterback.
“At the end of the day, you really need to believe in yourself,’’ Racioppi said. “Once you get there (college) everybody loves you. But nowadays, if you are not winning every game and throwing five or six touchdowns a game, and no interceptions, not everyone is happy.
“I know he is excited to have coach (Jeremy) Pruitt and excited to have coach (Jim) Chaney (as offensive coordinator).’’
Racioppi said criticism that Guarantano has trouble recognizing the blitz can be two-fold. He said some schemes limit your ability to check off while others have more flexibility. Calling the right protections and checking to the right play should not be an issue for Guarantano, he said.
“He knows the game inside and out,’’ Racioppi said. “He understands coverages. He knows the strengths and weaknesses of coverages. And he is just a hard worker.’’
Racioppi said Guarantano has matured physically, mentally and as a leader.
“At the end of the day, the best teams in college football are quarterback led,’’ Racioppi said. “Whether it’s making plays on the field, doing things off the field or in the weight room. Or getting guys together and throwing routes with them in the summer. … I think he is more comfortable in that role.
“He has had a lot of success, but he has been humbled at times, which is good and bad for some guys, as long as they don’t lose confidence. I think he’s going to take those bad times and learn from them.’’
Racioppi also said Guarantano has taken advantage of a great resource: Peyton Manning.
“That’s huge,’’ Racioppi said. “Some guys give it lip service. Jarrett literally took it to heart.’’
Now Guarantano must take it to the field.
If he can improve his numbers to 2,800 passing yards, 20 touchdowns and a 62% completion rate while liming turnovers, Tennessee’s win total could jump by at least two.
And then maybe Guarantano will get recognition as one of the SEC’s better quarterbacks.