Tennessee coach Butch Jones knows how to capitalize on an opportunity. So when quarterback Nathan Peterman provided him with one Saturday afternoon, hardly a second was wasted.
Peterman had just avoided an onrushing defensive lineman by throwing the ball away in the situational phase of the spring scrimmage. Wrong move, as Jones pointed out loudly enough for everyone in Neyland Stadium to hear.
Given the situation — protecting the lead in the final minutes — time was paramount. So going down with the ball and keeping the clock moving was the preferred option (assuming, of course, you didn’t use the ball to brace your fall as a certain Arkansas quarterback did on the same field in 1998).
“Every play is a teaching opportunity,” Jones said after the scrimmage.
And it also was another chance for him to expound on how crucial every detail will be in his first season at Tennessee.
As optimistic as Jones might be about the program, he seems appropriately realistic about this team. “No margin for error,” he keeps saying.
Attention to detail hasn’t been the only recurring theme this spring. So has effort.
For all the flaws that have surfaced in the scrimmages, lack of effort hasn’t been among them. That was evident again Saturday as the team turned down the stretch of spring drills.
“I really liked the way our players approached the day,” he said. “I could feel the energy. I could feel the intensity right from the get-go. That’s progress.
“We’re going to be a football team that our fan base will be proud of the way we play, the way we represent this institution and this state. But it’s going to be a work in progress.”
The Vols didn’t make as much progress in that regard the previous two practices, according to Jones. He attributed that, in part, to his team wearing down.
“I started to see us tapering off,” he said. “That’s why to see their approach (in Saturday’s scrimmage) was very, very encouraging.”
There were other encouraging aspects of the scrimmage, though nothing so significant to make September’s back-to-back games at Oregon and Florida look any more appealing.
At least, the quarterbacks threw the ball better than in the last scrimmage — though not as far. Both the first- and second-team offenses relied more on short passes and the running game, a plan that likely was influenced by an inexperienced receiving corps that has been further impaired by injuries.
Few Tennessee quarterbacks have had more disadvantages in their spring quest for a starting job than Justin Worley and Peterman, who are having to learn a new offense while
trying to develop a rhythm with a cast of receivers that keeps changing.
There were more dropped passes than poorly thrown ones in the scrimmage. And Jones was complimentary of the improvement.
But no matter how much either quarterback progresses in this last week of spring practice, the competition is really just beginning. Jones was asked if the two incoming freshman quarterbacks, Riley Ferguson and Joshua Dobbs, would have a chance to win the job in the fall.
“Absolutely,” he said. “It’s open competition.”
And it won’t be decided solely by throwing.
Jones invariably brings up decision-making and leadership when discussing quarterback play. Or, as he put it to Peterman rather loudly, “Manage the game.”
Just another detail worth remembering.