Subpar quarterback play has been a major issue for the Tennessee Vols over the last several years.
Tennessee hasn’t had a quarterback pass for over 2,500 yards since Josh Dobbs in 2016.
The poor quarterback development is one of the main reasons that athletic director Danny White was determined to hire an offensive-minded head coach to replace Jeremy Pruitt.
White ended up hiring Josh Heupel — a coach that is the polar opposite of Pruitt.
Heupel is known for his offense. He worked wonders at Missouri in 2016 and 2017 as the Tigers’ offensive coordinator. And he’s had UCF’s offense among the best in the nation the last three years in Orlando.
Most importantly, he’s been getting great production from the quarterback position.
This past season, Dillon Gabriel — a true sophomore — passed for 3,570 yards in just 10 games. As a true freshman in 2019, Gabriel passed for 3,653 yards.
Tennessee’s had three players throw for 3,000 yards in a season in program history (Peyton Manning, Tyler Bray, and Erik Ainge).
It’s safe to say that fans are excited to see what Heupel can do with Harrison Bailey, Kaidon Salter, and Hendon Hooker. The rest of the roster has some question marks, but the Vols are in good shape at the quarterback position.
And let’s not forget about junior Brian Maurer.
Folks are probably sleeping on Maurer a bit. And I get it.
I thought Maurer was going to transfer after the 2020 season. But he’s reportedly happy that Heupel is the head coach at Tennessee. And he’s ready to contribute.
I wouldn’t rule him out being a major factor in the Vols’ offense in 2020.
Heupel is going to walk into spring practice without a starting quarterback. He’ll see what everyone can do and figure out the best option to lead Tennessee’s offense.
Maurer isn’t the most talented quarterback on Tennessee’s roster at this point, but he might be the quarterback best equipped to run Heupel’s offense.
That’s because Heupel’s offense is incredibly similar to what Maurer ran in high school.
Maurer played in an up-tempo, spread offense in high school that wasn’t very complicated.
Here’s how his high school coach at West Port in Florida described the offense in 2019.
“We’re still gonna play at an up-tempo. We’re still gonna play as fast as we could possibly play.”
Playing in that offense is one of the reasons that Maurer didn’t get a chance to play early as a true freshman at Tennessee under Pruitt.
Pruitt said true frosh Brian Maurer ran uptempo spread in HS. `He’s a really good athlete, probably runs a 4.6 40. Has good arm talent. Gets the ball out of his hands.’ Pruitt said `I tell them every week we don’t have a backup quarterback until you decide it for us.’
— Jimmy Hyams (@JimmyHyams) September 9, 2019
Maurer set various records at West Port. He threw for 3,572 yards as a senior, setting a single-season record for the county. He also holds the county record for career passing yards with 7,693.
The Florida native was basically the high school version of Drew Lock (Heupel’s quarterback at Missouri).
By the way, let’s not forget that Ohio State heavily pursued Maurer as a recruit. The Buckeyes ended up going in another direction, but their interest suggests they viewed Maurer as an elite quarterback who could run their offense.
I’m not sitting here in February predicting that Maurer is going to beat out Bailey or Salter for the starting quarterback job at Tennessee in 2021. But I don’t think fans should write him off, either.
Maurer is a good fit in Heupel’s offense. And I think we’ll see Heupel give him a fair shot to win the job.
Featured image via Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports