Justin Worley and Butch Jones on Tennessee's QB comptetition
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Butch Jones doesn’t relish the prospect of a prolonged competition to determine his starting quarterback. The first-year Tennessee coach prefers sooner to later.
But “sooner” came and went in the spring. And neither quarterback kicked the other down the depth chart.
So Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman will begin preseason football practice Friday bracketed as Tennessee’s No. 1 quarterback.
Excuse fans if they aren’t atwitter over the competition. They’re probably more intrigued by the incoming quarterbacks than the returning ones.
And why not?
Worley started three games two years ago as a freshman but threw just 23 passes last season as a backup to Tyler Bray. He hasn’t overwhelmed fans with his physical skills.
Neither has Peterman, who didn’t wow anyone in the spring after being redshirted last fall.
Granted, the spring was hardly an ideal proving ground. Both quarterbacks had to learn a new offense while acclimating themselves to a receiving corps that is undistinguished and inexperienced.
A couple of freshmen are about to confront the same challenges. And they haven’t been excluded from the competition.
Jones was asked at Wednesday’s press luncheon if it was unrealistic to think a freshman — either Joshua Dobbs from Alpharetta, Ga., or Riley Ferguson from Matthews, N.C. — could win the starting job.
“It’s not unrealistic,” he said. “Is it difficult? Absolutely.”
It sounded more difficult when Jones listed his preferred traits in a quarterback.
Consistency and leadership, he said.
You don’t associate either attribute with a true freshman. However, there’s more to it.
As endearing as “consistency” and “leadership” might be to a coach, playmaking ability can sometimes trump both, especially in an offense seemingly lacking in big-play threats.
If either Dobbs or Ferguson has that capability, he shouldn’t hesitate to show it.
“Freshman quarterbacks will have limited reps starting off,” Jones said. “So every rep is critical.
“Do something to catch the coaches’ eyes.”
Do something to prove you’re a big-time quarterback.
Big-time quarterbacks change programs. And a change is long overdue for a UT program that has suffered through three consecutive seven-loss seasons.
Maybe Worley and Peterman are better than what they showed in the spring. If not, then UT can only hope that one of the two freshmen is talented enough to win the job.
They won’t have to win it right away. Jones proved last season he isn’t averse to changing quarterbacks during the season.
Cincinnati was 6-2 when Jones replaced Munchie Legaux with Brendan Kay. The Bearcats then won four of their last five games to finish 10-3.
“It just goes back to we’re going to play the player who gives us the best opportunity to win football games,” Jones said. “At that particular time, we felt that was the best decision.”
Tennessee fans now await Jones’ next quarterback decision.
But as newsworthy as the quarterback competition might be this preseason, it won’t mean much if the winner can’t make headlines this fall.