KNOXVILLE – With just over two weeks remaining before the Vols open their 2013 campaign, Tennessee still doesn’t have a starting quarterback.
Butch Jones made sure to emphasize that fact after practice on Friday afternoon.
But the four-man race between Justin Worley, Nathan Peterman, Riley Ferguson and Josh Dobbs might be coming into slightly better focus after two weeks of fall camp.
Justin Worley continues to take a vast majority of the first-team reps, but coach Butch Jones said that true freshman Riley Ferguson stood out during Friday’s practice, a workout that included live reps for the quarterbacks.
“The individual who stepped up was Riley Ferguson,” Jones said on Friday. “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 into my mouth, but he showed some poise.
“The thing I like about him is his pocket presence. He doesn’t get rattled and he made some big throws.”
Jones’ comments confirm observations from recent open practices that Ferguson, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound native of Matthews, N.C., is seemingly beginning to work his way up in the quarterback battle. He’s been splitting some of the second-team reps with Peterman behind Worley, but ahead of Dobbs.
None of the four have stood out as the obvious starter in the bunch, but there have been noticeable signs of improvement in accuracy and understand of the offense from the group.
“I do think all four of them are getting better and better and better,” Jones said. “I think it’s because of the competition. They walk into the meeting room and if they’re not bringing their best mentally, they’re going to get passed up, so I think that’s elevated everybody’s game.”
Though Worley is still the odds-on favorite to start the opening game against Austin Peay on Aug. 31, Jones still indicated that it is an open race for all four. He’s not hesitant to include the freshmen in that conversation.
“I’m just trying to find the best quarterback who manages our offense and who puts us in a situation to win football games,” Jones said when asked about the possibility of starting a true freshman. “It doesn’t matter if he’s a freshman, if he’s a sophomore, junior – it doesn’t matter. We’re going to put the best players on the field that will help us win.
“We’re a long ways from naming a starting quarterback.”
. Out: DE Jacques Smith (thumb), TE Justin Meredith (hamstring), DE Corey Vereen (knee), CB Riyahd Jones (calf), CB Michael Williams (shoulder), WR Ryan Jenkins, WR Paul Harris, WR Johnathon Johnson
. Limited: LB Curt Maggitt (ACL), LB Justin King (hamstring)
. Butch Jones said on Thursday that there’s still no definitive prognosis for Riyahd Jones, but he confirmed that his absence will likely be “lengthy.” Riyahd Jones has been seen walking around on crutches at the football facility.
. The Vols began practice with 2-point conversion attempts. The first offense converted its attempt when quarterback Justin Worley rolled right and threw back across his body to hit tight end Brendan Downs. The second team failed when Nathan Peterman’s pass was intercepted by Max Arnold and ran back for what’ve been a 2-point score for the defense.
. It was a bad day for the punt team, which had a punt blocked by former Chattanooga Central linebacker Nikolay Timoshchuk, who was working on the scout team.
. Play-by-play of the 7-on-7 drill (yardage is approximate):
– Worley complete Marquez North for 12 yards
– Worley complete to North for 8 yards
– Worley complete to North for 5 yards
– Worley incomplete, intended for Rajion Neal, defended by Brent Brewer
– Peterman complete to Croom for short gain, Croom stripped by Christian Harris, recovered by the D
– Peterman complete to Jacob Carter for 5 yards
– Ferguson complete to Jason Croom for 6 yards
– Ferguson incomplete, intended for Carter
. Reminder: Tennessee’s only open-to-the-public practice of fall camp is Saturday night at 7:00 p.m. ET. More details here.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter@DanielNooga