Tennessee is set to host a pair of promising passers this week, presenting an opportunity for head coach Butch Jones to sell his image for the program's future. The Volunteers will welcome quarterbacks Zach Gentry and Torrance Gibson to campus, per GoVolsXtra.com.
Jones secured an outstanding 2014 class, earning national attention with a highly ranked haul that included more than 30 players. However, Tennessee stood pat at the quarterback position and now has a specific need to sign at least one player at the position.
Each of the team's incoming guests is capable of sufficiently filling that void.
Gibson, a 5-star Florida product, is rated the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in 247Sports' composite rankings. He led American Heritage High School to a state title in 2013, accounting for more than 2,800 total yards, 29 touchdowns and just three interceptions.
The 6'4", 200-pound playmaker made Knoxville a stop on his whirlwind spring break road trip, although he didn't initially list Tennessee as a destination:
I will be visiting these schools during my spring break. 🚗💨 #RoadTrip Oklahoma LSU Alabama Auburn Clemson South Carolina Florida— Torrance Gibson (@quick_tg6) March 18, 2014
Instead of sticking to his initial itinerary, Gibson made a detour to visit the Volunteers:
He arrived Wednesday night and toured the campus Thursday. It didn't take long for Gibson to receive admiration from Tennessee fans, who understand what an elite quarterback prospect could do for the program:
Perhaps lost in the hype surrounding Gibson's visit is the upcoming arrival of Gentry, a 6'6", 230-pound passer from New Mexico. The massive recruit is rated ninth among pro-style quarterbacks in 247Sports' composite rankings.
During the past two seasons, he compiled more than 3,600 passing yards and accounted for 51 touchdowns. Gentry has done an admirable job avoiding mistakes, limiting himself to nine interceptions since 2012.
"Tennessee's been after him for a while," GoVols reporter Ryan Callahan said. "Texas just offered him a couple days ago. That could be interesting, but otherwise Tennessee is one of the teams to beat and may be in the driver's seat after this weekend."
Though their skill sets are extremely dissimilar, Gentry and Gibson are each viewed as potential long-term solutions at the position in Knoxville. These visits give Tennessee a chance to establish personal rapport with both prospects, so it's imperative for Jones and his staff to leave a positive impression on two of the 2015 class' top quarterbacks.
The sales pitch should start with the potential for early playing time. Tennessee's next quarterback signee will be two years younger than any other passer on the roster, presenting an opportunity to compete against upperclassmen facing make-or-break training camps.
Senior Justin Worley, sophomore Joshua Dobbs, third-year sophomore Nathan Peterman and redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson are competing for starting duties this spring. When a new quarterback arrives, Worley will be out of the equation, and at least one of the other passers could decide to transfer if game snaps seem unlikely in Knoxville.
Last season, Tennessee averaged just 165 passing yards per game, ranked 109th nationally. It remains to be seen if the right fit to fuel an aerial turnaround is currently on this roster.
The Volunteers boast a blossoming stable of offensive skill players, which should be an appealing asset for any quarterback prospect. Tennessee picked up a pair of 4-star wide receivers in its 2014 recruiting class.
Josh Malone and Von Pearson are already on campus for spring practice. Malone, a Tennessee native, has the makings of an SEC star and commanded interest from teams across the country before he decided to stay home.
Tennessee also welcomed heralded running back recruit Jalen Hurd to the team this semester. He suffered a season-ending injury early as a senior but rushed for more than 3,300 yards and 43 touchdowns during his junior campaign at Beech High School (Hendersonville, Tenn.).
Jones is already hard at work assembling a strong 2015 class, fueled by a September commitment from 5-star Georgia receiver Preston Williams. The 6'5" standout is rated No. 5 nationally among players at the position in 247Sports' composite rankings.
Which quarterback prospect should be a bigger priority for Tennessee?
Simply put, several of the pieces are in place for rapid development on offense in the near future. But Tennessee is still searching for an elite quarterback to take over the reigns a few years down the line, when the team's current newcomers really start to hit their stride.
The Volunteers may not soar up SEC standings this season, but 2015 could be an entirely different story. Jones is perhaps another strong recruiting class away from restoring competitive respectability to the program, so his message for Gibson and Gentry should be clear.
Both quarterbacks have the potential to become the face of Tennessee's turnaround, able to grow up with an outstanding group of young offensive weapons. That sales pitch likely won't be enough to land a commitment from either recruit this week, but it might just stay with them until the moment they're ready to announce a decision.
Recruit information courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.