Justin Worley signs with Tennessee
A significant question at quarterback began to take shape, with a late interception pressing Derek Dooley to respond.
The Tennessee coach wasn't really able to find out if he's got the answer in the long run, but with the game already decided, he at least gave himself another option moving forward.
After another uneven passing performance for Matt Simms against one of the nation's best defenses and one turnover in particular seemingly irritating Dooley in a 37-6 loss at No. 2 Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC) on Saturday, UT peeled off the redshirt for Justin Worley. That somewhat unexpected decision officially confirmed the availability of the true freshman for the rest of the season, but it didn't do much to clear up what his role might be.
"I don't know yet," Dooley said after the game. "I don't know, I don't know.
"It was unfortunate, we were wanting to put (Worley) in and wanted to throw it a little bit. But we fumbled on the first play and then we're on the minus-six-inch line (for the next drive). Couldn't really have an opportunity."
That left the Vols (3-4, 0-4) without any passing attempts to evaluate or much film of Worley leading the offense to break down, which didn't provide many clues as to whether he's ready for the workload under center.
Dooley didn't give an indication of what he's got in mind after another rough outing for Simms, who was 8-for-17 for 58 yards. Simms' night came to an end when Crimson Tide linebacker Dont'a Hightower picked off a pass across the middle early in the fourth quarter.
But Dooley certainly wasn't second-guessing a
move that erased the possibility of a redshirt season for Worley as the Vols search for help while Tyler Bray recovers from his broken thumb. Worley's appearance opens up the possibilities for the Vols under center as they prepare to host No. 14 South Carolina on Saturday (TV: ESPN2, 7:15 p.m.).
"Can't give up a sack, can't hold the ball," Dooley said. "When you hold the ball, you get sacked. You can't hold it and throw it over the middle late, or it gets picked, and that's what happened. So, we put Worley in.
"I've never worried about redshirts, I just don't care. These guys, they don't worry about staying for four years anymore, so why should we worry about redshirts? They come out in three. When they stop coming out in three, we'll start redshirting them."
The Vols haven't held out many freshmen under Dooley in his two years with the program, though it appeared before Bray went down two weeks ago against Georgia that Worley wouldn't be needed this season.
But Dooley has made clear on numerous occasions that he reserves making a final judgement on redshirts until late in the year based on numerous factors, from development in practice to positional necessity. And with Bray not even halfway though the projected recovery time for his injury, Worley at least seems to fit in the second category.
"Given the situation, the coaches kind of just, you know, told me why," Simms said. "And that's fine, I understand. If something does happen to me, he has to be ready. So it's good for him to get experience out there, especially in the environment we were in.
"They (said they) were going to give him a few reps at the end of the game. And I was fine. I understood it. I made a bad decision the play before. That's just how it goes.
"We just have to keep playing and get ready for the next opponent."
Those preparations might include Worley, as they have over the last couple weeks. But now there's really nothing keeping him from stepping on the field.
Austin Ward covers Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 865-342-6274 end_of_the_skype_highlighting. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Vols_Beat and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/ward