This is part one of post-spring practice breakdowns of each position unit on the Tennessee football team. It’ll review what progress was made during spring practice, look ahead at incoming players and their potential impact this year and what fans can expect this fall.
Junior Justin Worley (6-foot-4, 213 pounds)
Career stats: 63 of 110 for 738 yards with 1 touchdown and 5 interceptions
Class of 2011’s No. 23 QB pro-style QB in 247’s composite rankings
Redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman (6-foot-2, 226 pounds)
Career stats: None
Class of 2012’s No. 17 pro-style QB in 247’s composite rankings
Arriving this summer:
Freshman Josh Dobbs (6-foot-3, 190 pounds)
Class of 2013’s No. 10 pro-style QB in 247’s composite rankings
Freshman Riley Ferguson (6-foot-3, 180 pounds)
Class of 2013’s No. 23 pro-style QB in 247’s composite rankings
Tyler Bray’s decision to forgo his senior season and head to the NFL leaves Tennessee with a huge void at quarterback. Despite Bray’s well-documented struggles on and off the field in Knoxville, he’ll be the highest drafted Tennessee signal-caller since Peyton Manning went No. 1 overall in 1998. Simply put, there isn’t a quarterback on the Vols’ roster – or many others in college football – with anywhere near the talent Bray does. However, Bray wasn’t an ideal fit for Butch Jones’ offense, which is most efficient with a more mobile quarterback running zone-read concepts.
In Jones’ three seasons at Cincinnati, Bearcats quarterbacks completed 57 percent of their throws and averaged more 2,900 passing yards per season. They combined to have 70 touchdown passes and 40 interceptions during that time. The quarterbacks’ production on the ground increased every year (282 rushing yards in 2010, 419 rushing yards in 2011 and 641 rushing yards in 2012).
Worley and Peterman were Tennessee’s only scholarship quarterbacks in spring practice, and neither stood out. Major question marks and injuries at wide receiver and tight end didn’t help, but the passing game was far from efficient during the Vols’ 15 spring practices. Worley is the only quarterback on the Vols’ roster with game experience. He played in four games (started three) as a true freshman in 2011 after Bray broke a bone in his throwing hand midseason. Worley saw mop-up action in five games last year as the backup.
Worley is a more polished passer and may even have a stronger arm than Peterman, but the redshirt freshman provides more in the run game. Peterman was actually recruited by Jones while at Cincinnati and at least considered signing with the Bearcats over the Vols.
Following the Orange and White Game, Jones said the quarterback competition was “wide open,” and didn’t discount either of the incoming freshmen this fall.
Dobbs, a one-time Arizona State commitment, fits Jones’ offense well and was recruited to Tennessee after Jones took the job in December. Ferguson was recruited by the previous coaching staff and committed last summer, but still signed with the Vols in February.
Tennessee opens the season with home games against Austin Peay and Western Kentucky. Road games at Oregon and Florida follow. Those two opening games are opportunities for coaches to potentially give multiple quarterbacks chances to earn the full-time starting job. It also wouldn’t be surprising if coaches develop a small package for Dobbs, or even Peterman, to run if either of them isn’t the starter.
The quarterback battle will be the headline story entering fall camp. And for good reason.
“Name me a good football team or a great football team whose quarterback wasn't a great leader,” Jones said. “Usually your average to below average teams, the quarterback brings no leadership value. Everything is on the quarterback as the coach on the field. The quarterback sets the entire temperament for the football team, not just the offense.”
It’s anyone’s guess right now as to who will take the first snap of the year. Historically, experience usually wins out – at least to start a season – which would give Worley an early edge. In 2010, JUCO transfer Matt Simms started the first seven games of the season before Bray overtook him and was the starter for the final five games. In 2004, true freshmen Erik Ainge and Brent Schaeffer were co-starters to open the season. Schaeffer became the first SEC true freshman quarterback to start a season opener, but Ainge eventually took the job and Schaeffer later transferred.