KNOXVILLE – The fall semester just began on Wednesday for Tennessee, but coach Butch Jones said it’s already final exam time for the Vols.
With just nine days remaining before Tennessee kicks off its 2013 campaign against Austin Peay, the Vols held a grueling two-and-a-half hour practice on Thursday that will be followed by a closed mock game on Friday that will give them a final opportunity to fine tune the details before heading into the first game week.
"This was kind of the final exam for a lot of individuals,” said Jones. “The mock game is anything and everything that can occur at a football game and even the season. We'll practice everything."
Thursday and Friday are the final opportunities for those locked in a position battle to make their case on the field before the depth chart is rolled out for Austin Peay. Most notably, that includes the quarterbacks. Jones said that decision should come soon in the four-man race between Justin Worley, Nathan Peterman, Joshua Dobbs and Riley Ferguson.
"Right now I am thinking Monday,” Jones said of when he will make a decision on the starting quarterback. “I want to have the opportunity to really watch the film and watch all four individual's body of work throughout the course of camp. I want to be able to sit down with each individual and have them hear it from me.
“ It will be the individual we think gives us the best chance to beat Austin Peay."
The battles don’t stop at quarterback, though. Jordan Williams and Marlon Walls are dueling for spot at defensive end. LaDarrell McNeil and Byron Moore have gone back and forth at safety. The wide receiver rotation is still to be determined.
Even lesser-seen roles on special team units will be finalized in the next few days.
But Jones, who always preaches the importance of competition, emphasized that the battles will continue throughout the season. After naming Munchie Legaux the starting quarterback at Cincinnati last year before the season started, the Bearcats made the switch to backup Brendon Kay mid-season.
That might not be the ideal situation, but Jones acknowledged that the starting quarterback named Monday might not remain in that role all season.
“I’d like to settle in on one guy, but the competition won’t be over with,” he said.
- OUT: DE Jacques Smith (thumb), TE Justin Meredith (hamstring), DE Corey Vereen (knee), CB Riyahd Jones (calf), CB Michael Williams (shoulder), Alex Ellis (foot), WR Ryan Jenkins, K George Bullock
- LIMITED: WR Paul Harris, WR Johnathon Johnson, RB Marlin Lane, LB Curt Maggitt, LB Justin King, WR Pig Howard, LB Greg King, TE Joseph Ayres, S Brian Randolph (precautionary)
• Johnson and Harris were back running routes in green, non-contact jerseys after missing the last couple of weeks.
Notes and observations:
• It was another rough day for punter Matt Darr, who shanked a punt for less than 10 yards at one point and continues to be inconsistent and slow getting his punts off.
• Several newcomers had their stripes removed off their helmets on Thursday. The newcomers “earn their stripes” when their big brother on the team decides they are ready. Jason Carr, Austin Sanders, Malik Foreman, A.J. Branisel, Woody Quinn, Ryan Jenkins and Paul Harris are among those who lost their stripe.
• With classes starting on Wednesday, several new walk-ons were added to the roster and were on the field on Thursday. Tennessee hasn’t updated its roster yet to reflect all the changes.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga