Tennessee football practice on Aug. 16, 2013
Tennessee coach Butch Jones delivered a morsel of news on the quarterback front Friday, then immediately took it back. He also asked for his message to be verbatim, so here it is.
“The individual who stepped up (Friday) was Riley Ferguson,” he began. “Don’t write about it. He’s not the starting quarterback. We don’t have a starting quarterback right now, so don’t put words in my mouth.”
Jones made his quarterbacks “live” on Friday. No longer were they off limits from contact. If a defender had a shot, he could take it. Of all the quarterbacks, according to Jones’ words, Ferguson stood out.
“I thought that he showed some poise,” Jones said. “The thing I liked about him was his pocket presence. He doesn’t get rattled and he made some big throws.”
But don’t get carried away. The race for Tennessee’s starting quarterback is still very much alive. Justin Worley, the junior who most consider the frontrunner, remains locked in competition with Ferguson, redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman and freshman Joshua Dobbs, none of whom have ever taken a collegiate snap.
“We’re a long ways away from naming a starting quarterback,” Jones clarified.
The opening game, however, is not a long ways away. The Vols face Austin Peay at Neyland Stadium in two weeks.
Ferguson is a slender 6-foot-3, 173-pound freshman. After making plenty of errant throws early in preseason camp, he’s gradually shown more consistency on both short passes and deep balls. More importantly, his judgment has improved.
“He hasn’t had the catastrophic plays that he had early,” Jones said. “He’s taking care of the football.”
Jones used Friday’s meeting with the media to specifically call out his ballyhooed offensive line. Discussing camp fatigue, he said, “We have to do a much better job and it starts with our offensive line. We had a fourth and 1 today and ran the ball and didn’t get it. That’s inexcusable. I think too many people want to crown them. They have a lot of work to do.”
A practice originally scheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday has been canceled. Instead, the Vols will use the morning for an “extensive walk-through” in preparation for Saturday night’s open practice at Neyland.
Two UT newcomers had the black stripes removed from their helmet between Thursday and Friday. Junior college transfer receiver Johnathon Johnson and freshman defensive lineman Jaylen Miller became the sixth and seventh first-year players to “earn their stripes.”
The Vols’ punt protection bumbled through drills Friday and met Jones’ wrath. Following back-to-back blocked punts, Jones stopped and wailed, “Two punts, two blocks! This is like putting on your Vandy game (from last year). This is the Bad News Bears!”
He only shook his head when the next punt attempt resulted in a snap deflecting off a “personal protector” standing between the line of scrimmage and the punter.
The line of the day came when Jones noticed Byron Moore resting his hands on hips and compared him to fellow safety Brian Randolph.
“This is like synchronized swimming, except it’s synchronized softness,” Jones said.
Kicker/punter Michael Palardy, receiver Ryan Jenkins and defensive back Mike Williams worked with trainers and did not practice.
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee football and men’s basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn