Post-Spring Ball: Who Will Vols Start At QB?
By Dan Harralson
The much-anticipated spring practices for Tennessee have come and gone. Now, Tennessee awaits 18 more newcomers to arrive in June.
Those 18 players will provide additional depth to the talent on Team 118. In January, 14 early enrollees arrived and have already gained valuable spring practice experience.
With all of the additional pieces, the Volunteers will still come down to quarterback play, however, head coach Butch Jones doesn't seem pleased with the position after spring drills.
"That's what I'm waiting for, someone to take hold, take grasp and say, 'I am the quarterback of Tennessee,'" Jones said at a press conference earlier this month. "You have to earn that right every single day. You have to bring it every single day. You have to have tremendous juice and energy to play that position because they feed off of you. I think that's what makes Johnny Manziel so special. Johnny Manziel brings it every single day."
Senior Justin Worley is back and healthy as a game manager in the pocket. Also back is Nathan Peterman, who started at The Swamp against Florida last season in a 31-17 loss on Sept. 21 in which he was only 4-of-11 for 5 yards with two interceptions and came away with an injured thumb. Then there's Josh Dobbs, thrown into the fire after replacing an injured Worley during the Vols' loss at Alabama. The fourth quarterback is redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson, who had a chance to showcase his ability to run Jones' offense this spring.
But where does Tennessee stand at the QB position going into fall camp, now that spring practices have concluded?
Worley has started 10 games in his Tennessee career, throwing more interceptions (13) than touchdown passes (11). He has only five career victories as a starting signal caller, with one being an upset of highly ranked South Carolina.
So, why is Worley a better fit in 2014 if he is called upon as the starter?
Worley provides a game management approach, which could be more ideal in 2014. He will have a plethora of receivers to throw to now as Von Pearson and Josh Malone have added play-making abilities to the offense.
Having wide receiver threats goes hand in hand with Worley's excellent check-down abilities, and this can complement the Vols' added depth at running back as Jalen Hurd and Derrell Scott are new additions in the backfield.
With four starts under his belt, experience is there for Dobbs. Dobbs also does not look like a freshman anymore, bulking up to 203 pounds from 190.
Adding muscle gives Dobbs the extra ability to run Jones' read option plays and take the hits that come with it. Dobbs also looked better in the passing department this spring with the added talent to throw to for him.
The redshirt freshman is ready to compete in the quarterback race as Ferguson is fully healthy after battling a leg injury last season.
Ferguson has a great deal of football knowledge after hearing him talk during media sessions this spring. His knowledge and athletic ability are not in question. Rather it's his ability to adjust to game speed, which happens via game time. Like Dobbs, Ferguson can execute Jones' read-option plays, a dynamic that will allow this offense to compete.
In his lone collegiate start, Peterman struggled against the Gators. Obviously, he can improve, and Peterman did receive plenty of reps throughout spring.
Is he the answer? It doesn't seem so, but who knows how the race will shake out? His spring could be all about positioning in the depth chart.
Who Is In The Lead?
Dobbs, Ferguson, Peterman and Worley combined for 514 passing yards and six passing touchdowns in the Orange & White spring game. All four quarterback's looked good, but who were they throwing to within each possession? Let's review the results, with only significant results noted.
Possession 1: Worley (first-team offense vs. first-team defense)
Possession 2: Peterman (second offense vs. second defense)
Possession 3: Ferguson (first offense vs. first defense)
Possession 4: Dobbs (first offense vs. second defense)
Possession 5: Ferguson (first offense vs. first defense)
Possession 6: Dobbs (first offense vs. second defense)
Possession 7: Worley (first offense vs. first defense)
Possession 8: Peterman (first offense vs. first defense)
Possession 9: Ferguson (second offense vs. second defense)
Possession 10: Dobbs (first offense vs. second defense)
Possession 11: Worley (first offense vs. first defense)
Possession 12: Ferguson (second offense vs. second defense)
Possession 13: Worley (first offense vs. first defense)
Possession 14: Peterman (second offense vs. second defense)
Possession 15: Ferguson (first offense vs. second defense)
Possession 16: Dobbs (second offense vs. second defense)
Possession 17: Worley (second offense vs. second defense)
Possession 18: Peterman (first offense vs. first defense)
Possession 19: Ferguson (second offense vs. second defense)
Possession 20: Dobbs (second offense vs. second defense)
Dobbs looked good, throwing for 199 yards, but he had his success with the first-team offense against the second-team defense. Worley came through throwing for 151 yards, while his success came with ones vs. ones.
It will be an interesting summer as Team 118 continues to identify a starting signal caller among the four contenders.
"There are no timetables," Jones said at the beginning of spring. "That person will emerge. I don't know if it is the second week of spring, after the conclusion of the Orange and White game or a week prior to Utah State (in the season opener). That will take care of itself."
Spring Practice Videos
Here are some Tennessee practice videos from Football.com