Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano seems like the leader of Tennessee football’s offense. But Jauan Jennings is that guy for the Volunteers right now.
Jeremy Pruitt has been trying to emphasize his confidence in Jarrett Guarantano ever since he took over as head coach for Tennessee football. He took that to another level during the summer by bringing Guarantano to SEC Media Days, as a junior, over more experienced seniors, including Nigel Warrior, Baylen Buchanan, Marquez Callaway, and yes, Jauan Jennings.
Guarantano went with Daniel Bituli and Darrell Taylor. Bituli, Taylor, Warrior and Buchanan could all be leaders of the Vols’ defense given their experience. It is true that Guarantano could emerge as a leader for the Vols’ offense.
However, right now, that leader is Jauan Jennings. And it’s not even close. Jennings remains the most vocal offensive player for Tennessee football, and that showed throughout the weekend at different points. For starters, Pruitt himself couldn’t hide Jennings’s leadership when discussing the receiver’s return to health after a summer injury.
Then there was fan day on Sunday. It had to be moved inside due to weather, but Jennings, the fifth-year senior, was the one caught on camera getting everybody hyped up. This is just something he does regularly.
Combine this with Jennings’s trolling of former foes, like Teez Tabor, and nobody gets UT fans more excited than he does. He’s the guy who manages to motivate everybody. Given the fact that he was a starter on the last team to finish in the top 25, he’s also earned the right to be a leader.
During that season, which was 2016 when the Vols went 9-4, Jennings he caught the go-ahead touchdown reception and game-winning hail mary touchdown reception in the Vols’ two biggest wins, against the Florida Gators and Georgia Bulldogs. So nobody comes close to Jennings in terms of proven production, maybe on either side of the ball.
That year, his only year in college fully healthy and as a full-time starter, he had 40 receptions for 580 yards and seven touchdowns…all as the No. 2 receiver. Guarantano, meanwhile, despite all the praise for his efficiency and potential, which is warranted, still is 6-12 as a starter and quarterbacked an offense outside of the top 100 last year.
Simply put, at this moment, Jennings has a greater history of success, and entering his fifth-year senior season appearing to be ready to go, he’s got the chance to shine again. So the coaches should be paying attention to the way he inspires his teammates.
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Sure, he was dismissed from the team in 2017 before being reinstated. But he was dismissed by an interim head coach and an athletic director who would be gone in a month. And he was dismissed for accusing the staff of lying, something numerous players, administrators and media members had been doing all year anyway.
So despite that, Jennings has proven more than enough for himself to be the leader on Tennessee football’s offense. He’s been a bit forgotten about because of his season-ending injury in 2017 and his struggle to return to consistent production from it in 2018. But there’s no denying what he can do when fully healthy.
Even if it’s not ideal for a receiver to be your most vocal leader on offense, sometimes that’s the case. The Dallas Cowboys won three Super Bowls in the 1990s with a guy like that in Michael Irvin, who mattered more than Troy Aikman. Jennings, for now, is a guy like that on the Vols. And they should adapt accordingly.