A rebuilding football program can't afford to dwell too much on depth. Finding adequate starters is challenging enough.
But quarterback depth is an exception. It's worthy of worry, especially if you review Tennessee's last four seasons.
Only once has a single quarterback started every game, and you could argue about that. Technically, the season-long starter in 2009 was Jonathan Crompton. But his transformation from an early-season liability to a top-tier SEC quarterback was so dramatic, it was as though the position had been manned by two different players.
In 2008, UT started three different quarterbacks. In 2010, Matt Simms started the first two-thirds of the season before giving way to freshman Tyler Bray. Last year, freshman Justin Worley stepped in for Bray when the latter was injured.
When you think about how those seasons played out, you can't assume the quarterback position is golden just because Bray has a big-time arm and two years of experience. But you can assume the quarterbacks coach is comfortable in the company of his three quarterbacks.
The Vols have an All-SEC candidate in Bray, a backup with starting experience in Worley and a freshman in Nathan Peterman with perhaps more potential than the number of stars doled out by recruiting services would suggest.
"We don't have a guy in that room who can't play in the SEC," said Chaney, UT's offensive coordinator for the last three years who is now coaching quarterbacks as well. "I'm tickled to death with our room. I wouldn't trade our room for (anyone's)."
Such praise has to be placed in context, of course. It's spring. It's a
position coach talking about his players.
But you also should note that Chaney isn't always gushing with compliments for anyone on his offense. He doesn't hesitate when asked how this group compares with their predecessors during his three seasons at UT.
"I've never felt this good with our three quarterbacks in the room since I've been here," he said. "I can say that safely. I like this group a lot."
That evaluation matters more when you consider the uneven performances at the position the last few seasons. Worley now has experience. And Peterman apparently has plenty of potential, as evidenced by the preseason endorsement from Chaney.
Peterman's throwing got Chaney's immediate attention. He further impressed Chaney when he led his high school team into the playoffs. The clincher was his board work, where he suitably expressed himself in a coach's Xs-and-Os alphabet.
"They need to be able to get on the board and tell me what's on their brain," Chaney said. "I need to know where they're at when they walk in the door."
Chaney stresses that he doesn't expect a high school quarterback to demonstrate a Joe Montana acumen for the game. He just wants a few clues that offensive football isn't a foreign language to him.
Said Chaney: "Here would be a scenario: You tell them to get on the board and they can't put 11 guys on the field."
While that evokes laughter from the surrounding media, Chaney has had recruits fail the board phase of the game so flagrantly, that he stopped recruiting them. Peterman's knowledge of the game heightened Chaney's interest. So has the freshman's work this spring.
"Nothing gets by him," Chaney said.
How's that for an encouraging assessment of a freshman quarterback? Chaney expands on it by mentioning Peterman's throwing accuracy as well as his running ability. But it's the group, not just a returning starter or a freshman endowed with potential, that is most encouraging to Chaney.
"I think we've got some good ones," he said. "I never was a very good quarterbacks coach when we had not very good ones."