UT football scrimmage on Saturday at Neyland Stadium
Having watched balls sail high and bounce low for two hours, Tennessee football coach Butch Jones is still looking for his No. 1 quarterback.
“They managed it (leading the team) well but we’re still not there yet — where they’re fully in command with presence, in terms of barking out the cadence, the signals,” Jones said Saturday following the Vols’ second spring scrimmage at Neyland Stadium. “Really, the alpha male — barking out down and distance; when something is wrong, getting you in the right formation. All those things. That comes with time, but we don’t have time.”
Neither Tennessee quarterback progressed in the battle to be Jones’ alpha-male. A good day for the defense and rough day for the offense created little separation between Justin Worley, a 6-foot-4, 213-pound junior, and Nathan Peterman, a 6-2, 226-pound redshirt freshman.
Worley worked mostly with UT’s first-team offense. Peterman lined up with a second team that includes multiple walk-ons.
There were few highlights. Jones said he was “not pleased at all” with the offense as a whole, divvying up the blame to quarterbacks, running backs, receivers and linemen. Saturday saw nine three-and-outs by the offense and scarce scoring drives.
“Somebody is going to have to step up and play offense here come the first game against Austin Peay,” Jones said.
That’s five months away. The Orange and White game is two weeks away.
Thanks to inaccurate passing and spotty play from UT’s receiving corps, neither Worley nor Peterman used Saturday to distinguish who should be the No. 1 quarterback in the latter, let alone the former.
“I am concerned about the completion percentage,” Jones said. “It so much lands itself on the shoulders of the quarterback, but it’s more than that.”
The wideouts, for instance. No longer headlined by Justin Hunter or Cordarrelle Patterson, the unit struggled mightily.
“One-hundred thousand people just groaned,” Jones belted in a microphone, filling an empty Neyland Stadium after sophomore receiver Alton “Pig” Howard dropped a third-down pass across the middle.
There were plenty more gaffs. Howard wasn’t alone.
Jason Croom, though, offered some redemption. On a fourth-and-4 in a mock overtime scenario, the 6-foot-5, 235-pound redshirt freshman reached back to snatch a lagging pass for a first down. The offense punched in a “game-tying touchdown” moments later, prompting Jones to bellow, “All that was made possible by you,” with an accompanying back slap.
Worley and Peterman will hope for more of that from the receivers. It will help in the ongoing understanding of offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian’s get-up-and-go offense.
“It’s a hard tempo to get used to,” Peterman said. “I think we were a little slower last year, so it’s going to take a little time.”
Per Jones, there’s none of that to be had.
As he has all spring, senior defensive lineman Maurice Couch wore a green “no-contact” jersey due to offseason shoulder surgery. He said afterward he’ll likely remain in green for the remainder of the spring.
“I can’t stand being in it,” Couch said. “I want to be out there with the other guys, but I don’t want to get out there and reinjure myself again. I’m doing as much as possible to get to 100 percent.”
Some early excitement included Jones stopping play to send linebacker Corey Vereen out of the game. The freshman shoved senior tight end Joseph Ayres in the back after the two got tangled. Jones stormed toward Vereen yelling, “Get off the field. Take his helmet off. Take his pads off. We’re not doing that around here.”
Vereen exited without incident. He returned later after a chat with his head coach.
“He felt awful about it,” Jones said. “Everything was (in) his demeanor when I called him over. He knew what he’d done wrong. That was a great teaching point.”
UT players went to class last week armed with invitations for Saturday’s festivities from Jones to UT faculty members. More than 100 showed up. Their day began with a pre-scrimmage presentation from Jones on the importance of the student in a student-athlete. Breakfast and a tour of the facilities were included.