Mike Strange: One redshirt size does not fit all

Mike Strange
ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL
Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley throws the ball during practice at Haslam Field on Aug. 3. Worley was unsure last season if he would redshirt until he received playing time against Alabama and started the next three games. He said the experience gave him confidence that he was able to run the offense in a game situation.

Photo by Adam Brimer, copyright © 2012

ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley throws the ball during practice at Haslam Field on Aug. 3. Worley was unsure last season if he would redshirt until he received playing time against Alabama and started the next three games. He said the experience gave him confidence that he was able to run the offense in a game situation.

For six weeks last fall, quarterback Justin Worley played the what-if game.

Would he play? Would he not?

"Each week, they never told me I would definitely be a redshirt or definitely play,'' Worley said Saturday, reviewing his freshman season at Tennessee.

It's a mind game legions of athletes straight out of high school play across the country each fall. Will they play? Will they redshirt?

In the final days leading up to UT's 2012 season-opener, a number of freshmen are pondering the same thing. For some, the answer will come on Aug. 31 in the Georgia Dome.

For others, it will linger like it did with Worley.

Finally, in the waning moments of a 37-6 lost cause at Alabama on Oct. 22, Worley was told to get his helmet and warm up.

He trotted on the field at Bryant-Denny Stadium and handed off a few times. Welcome to college football.

The next week, he started against South Carolina. He started again against MTSU and Arkansas before Tyler Bray returned from an injury.

"Granted, we went 1-2 when I started,'' Worley said, "but playing against another team and not just our defense in practice helped my confidence a lot.''

Redshirt decisions on the 2012 freshmen will be made ultimately by coach Derek Dooley.

He hasn't had the luxury of redshirting many freshmen in his two seasons at UT. A bare-bones roster wouldn't allow it.

"You play better as a sophomore if you played as a freshman,'' Dooley said Saturday. "Even if you stunk as a freshman.''

Worley agreed: "Just the fact that I know I can go out there and run the offense.''

Tennessee played 16 true freshmen last year. Six redshirted. The numbers reflect in large part the lack of veteran talent Dooley inherited in 2010.

By comparison, only five true freshmen played on UT's star-studded 1999 team, one year after the national championship.

The numbers also reflect a trend. The tendency now is to use talent before it leaves early for the NFL. In 1988, Tennessee redshirted freshmen Chuck Webb and Carl Pickens. That would never happen today.

Offensive lineman Marcus Jackson played in all 12 games last year, as did classmate Antonio Richardson.

Jackson knew a redshirt was off the table when he was lining up with the No. 1 line in the spring after his early enrollment.

"I would not say redshirting is a bad thing,'' Jackson said, "but there's nothing like experience either.

"In a sense, I'm glad I played. But I missed having time to develop. I had to develop on the fly.''

Mack Crowder, Alan Posey and Kyler Kerbyson were informed by offensive line coach Harry Hiestand before the first game they would redshirt — barring emergency.

"We were still getting ready each week just like the ones,'' Crowder said, "but I'm very happy I didn't play.

"Especially in the SEC, it takes you a while to get the size and strength you need to play.''

Defensive line recruits Jordan Williams and Trevarris Saulsberry came to UT from Gainesville (Fla.) High School. Saulsberry watched as Williams was sent into action, but his own call never came.

"They realized I wasn't ready to compete,'' Saulsberry said. "I was kind of upset at first. I called my dad and he told me it was a year to develop.

"Now I'm definitely glad I didn't waste a year of eligibility. It's a win-lose situation, but you see the positives more than the negatives.''

Dooley and his staff have to weigh the positives and the negatives, week by week, over the course of the next few months.

The depth chart isn't as lean as it was. But the Vols still need help.

"They have the right height, weight and speed criteria that we're looking for,'' Dooley said.

"Now, can we develop them?''

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.

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Comments » 9

Ironcity writes:

Good read. Its going to take time to develop depth. We can only hope our starters stay healthy.

imw8n4u writes:

I still think it was the dumbest thing ever to stick Worley out there in mop up duty against Bama last year. I think Dooley will regret that next year when Worley could be a Soph instead of a Junior.

Navaloranges writes:

in response to imw8n4u:

I still think it was the dumbest thing ever to stick Worley out there in mop up duty against Bama last year. I think Dooley will regret that next year when Worley could be a Soph instead of a Junior.

According to Strange, and Worley, it wasn't a bad thing. He now knows what to expect when/if he's called on. He has game experience. Besides, he may not be that much better than Peterman, even at this point. I'm sure Dooley knows that having more time now to recruit players, he will be getting more, and better, QB talent in the near future.

This article SHOULD prove to the Frauds on here that Dooley has had a very incapable roster to deal with his first two years. I'm sure there are still some POSER regulars that WON'T get it.

coach799 writes:

in response to Navaloranges:

According to Strange, and Worley, it wasn't a bad thing. He now knows what to expect when/if he's called on. He has game experience. Besides, he may not be that much better than Peterman, even at this point. I'm sure Dooley knows that having more time now to recruit players, he will be getting more, and better, QB talent in the near future.

This article SHOULD prove to the Frauds on here that Dooley has had a very incapable roster to deal with his first two years. I'm sure there are still some POSER regulars that WON'T get it.

There is not a coach in this world that could have won with what Dooley inherited. We were good until a starter went down. Here's hoping lk learns that this season!

GO VOLS!!

do_it_Dooley writes:

in response to imw8n4u:

I still think it was the dumbest thing ever to stick Worley out there in mop up duty against Bama last year. I think Dooley will regret that next year when Worley could be a Soph instead of a Junior.

so lets say he didnt put him in last year...and he didnt gain the experience and he didnt find out that he could run the offense...and lets say tyler bray gets injured in week 2...no uve got a guy that has never played a college football game in vs florida....i see ur point kinda but even worley said that he gained confidence and needed experience

jhayes0926#638474 writes:

IMO, I think Worley should have redshirted, but I see both sides. I think Sims had as much a chance to win as Worley, for what its worth. We now have 3 good qb's with a commitment from a 4th that sounds like a great player- Ferguson I think is his name. Don't really need to redshirt one now, with plenty in the wings.

Pompey writes:

...at the end of the day the HC's first responsibility is to the team more than to an individual's career....this makes some red shirt decisions very difficult. This coach thinks team first, and that is how it should to be.

TheVolSnake writes:

What I think is funny is the same people that wanted Bray to start the first game two years ago when he was 180 pounds (High side) true Freshman and bashed Dooley for not playing him till week 6 are now upset about Worley being used last year. We had the same back up/starting QB Simms in both cases.

What if we had the depth and could have red shirted Bray, Hunter and Rodger’s. What about Lane or some of our running backs (Young or Lane) everyone would have been screaming why we didn’t play them.

It wasn’t that long ago when True freshman couldn’t play at all.

Now all that being said we had to play True Freshman because of depth issues over the last two years and out of the 32 true Freshman that have played for the Vols was a point of necessity for the most part. We will see this year how the early playing time pans out.

We will have a great season and will be dramatically improved.

Maybe we will have the chance to red shirt some and develop them verses being forced to play them early.

imw8n4u writes:

in response to TheVolSnake:

What I think is funny is the same people that wanted Bray to start the first game two years ago when he was 180 pounds (High side) true Freshman and bashed Dooley for not playing him till week 6 are now upset about Worley being used last year. We had the same back up/starting QB Simms in both cases.

What if we had the depth and could have red shirted Bray, Hunter and Rodger’s. What about Lane or some of our running backs (Young or Lane) everyone would have been screaming why we didn’t play them.

It wasn’t that long ago when True freshman couldn’t play at all.

Now all that being said we had to play True Freshman because of depth issues over the last two years and out of the 32 true Freshman that have played for the Vols was a point of necessity for the most part. We will see this year how the early playing time pans out.

We will have a great season and will be dramatically improved.

Maybe we will have the chance to red shirt some and develop them verses being forced to play them early.

These are totally different scenarios, one is saying a Freshman should play early in the season if he gives us a better chance to win. Dooley didn't blow Worley's redshirt until the final minutes of the 7th game of the season. A game, by the way, that was totally out of reach.
Of course Worley and Dooley are going to say it was good experience, but I tend to think another year of eligibility is worth more than the experience he got. That's water under the bridge now though, hopefully the QB next in line behind Worley will be good enough to make this a moot point.

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