KNOXVILLE – Tennessee opens spring practice in just over two weeks. It will be the first glimpse of coach Butch Jones’ initial UT squad and several positions will be up for grabs, starting in the first practice.
Nooga.com will preview each position group leading up to the first practice on March 9.
Gone: Tyler Bray (declared for NFL Draft)
Returning: Justin Worley (JR), Nathan Peterman (RS FR)
Arriving in summer: Joshua Dobbs (4-star), Riley Ferguson (3-star), Charlie High (preferred walk-on, 3-star)
Outlook: There’s perhaps no other position that will have as heated a competition as will quarterback in the spring.
It’ll be a two-man duel between Worley and Peterman to gain the upper hand before three talented freshmen arrive over the summer. Worley will go into Jones’ first spring practice as the more experienced option.
The 6-4, 215-pound, Rock Hill, S.C., native appeared in nine games, starting three, over the last two years for the Vols in relief of former starters Bray and Matt Simms. He was hand picked by former offensive coordinator Jim Chaney as the successor to Bray.
But Chaney is in Arkansas now and though Jones has vowed to tailor his offense to fit his best players, it’s no secret that he primarily utilized more mobile quarterbacks in his time as the head coach at Central Michigan and Cincinnati.
That could bode well for Peterman, a more nimble option despite his stocky, 6-2, 225-pound frame. The native of Fruit Cove, Fla., was heavily recruited by Jones while with the Bearcats, but ultimately opted to sign with the Vols. He’s not a true scrambling quarterback, but does have more mobility than Worley, who is more of a traditional drop-back passer.
After sitting behind Bray and Worley in 2012, Peterman has four years of eligibility remaining after taking a redshirt this past year.
That sets up a battle of the more experienced Worley against the perhaps better-fitting Peterman. With a completely new offense to install and the freshmen coming in over the summer, Jones might opt to carry the competition into fall camp.
Quotable: Jones on whether he needs a mobile quarterback for his offense:
“I think the best coaches are the ones that mold their schemes around the players they have. We’re going to play to the strengths of our players and our offense is quarterback-centered. Make no mistakes around it, around the country, whether it’s high school, college or pro, offenses start with the quarterback. We’ll base our offense around the quarterback’s skill set.”
By the numbers:
• Worley: (UT career) 63 of 110 (57.3%) passing for 738 yards, 1 TD, 5 INTs
• Peterman: (SR year at Bartram Trail H.S.) 2,016 passing yards, 20 TDs, 319 yards rushing, 5 TDs
Projected initial depth chart: Jones might list Worley and Peterman as “co-starters” going into camp or could opt to give Worley the initial first-team snaps based on overall experience. That won’t mean too much, though. This is a competition that will likely drag out through the spring and into the summer.
Daniel Lewis covers University of Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga