KNOXVILLE – It’s not a surprise, but it is official now. Junior quarterback Justin Worley will start Tennessee’s opener against Austin Peay on Saturday.
The 6-foot-4, 225-pound native of Rock Hill, S.C., is set to make his fourth career start when the Vols play the Governors this week. In nine career games, Worley has completed 63-of-110 passes for 738 yards, one touchdown and five interceptions. He is 1-2 as a starter.
Despite Worley’s rocky performances in game situations in the past, coach Butch Jones listed his game experience as part of the reason he made the decision.
“It was an overall body of work,” Jones said of what helped Worley earn the job. “It was taking care of the football. We chart anything and everything. We wanted to make the best decision for our football team – It was the game experience as well, other than the offensive line, we don’t have a lot of experience on offense.”
Worley beat out redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman, who is listed as the backup for Week 1, and true freshmen Joshua Dobbs and Riley Ferguson. Worley worked with the first-team offense for most of spring and fall camp. Jones said there’s no decision on who the third quarterback will be, but also added that he would, ideally, like to redshirt one of the freshmen.
“It was a close race,” Jones said. “Justin was just a little ahead of the other three.”
“He just said you’re our guy going into Week 1,” Worley said of his conversation with Jones. “He told me he didn’t want me to have any worries, looking over my shoulder or anything like that. He basically told me, ‘take control of this team, it’s your team.'”
But Jones didn’t rule out the possibility of multiple quarterbacks playing this weekend or later in the season.
“We’ll see how the game goes,” Jones said when asked if multiple QBs could make an appearance on Saturday.
Jones and offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian now must balance keeping Worley’s confidence high, while also continuing to cultivate a competitive atmosphere between the four quarterbacks.
“We don’t ever want to create a scenario where they’re always looking behind them,” Jones said. “But that’s the world we live in. That’s football. That’s competition.”
Injury update: Jones ruled out cornerback Riyahd Jones (calf), defensive end Jacques Smith (thumb) and defensive end Corey Vereen (knee) for the opener. Tight end Justin Meredith (hamstring), who hasn’t practiced all fall, will presumably be out as well.
Jones said they’re optimistic that Smith will be able to play Week 2 against Western Kentucky. Linebacker Curt Maggitt, who is recovering from a torn ACL suffered in 2012, is listed as a backup on the depth chart at linebacker. Jones said he’ll practice some this week and will be further evaluated on Friday.
. Vincent Dallas, who started camp at receiver and then moved to cornerback last week, will return to wide receiver this week. He’s listed as a backup to freshman Marquez North at one of the outside wide receiver positions. Dallas is the team’s leading returning receiver with nine receptions and 149 yards in 2012.
. The Vols held a mock game on Friday and had Saturday and Sunday off before returning to the practice field on Monday.
Full depth chart for Week 1 vs. Austin Peay:
QB:1. Justin Worley | 2. Nathan Peterman
RB:1. Rajion Neal | 2. Marlin Lane
TE:1. Brendan Downs | 2. Joseph Ayres | 3. Woody Quinn
Slot WR:1. Pig Howard | 2. Devrin Young
WR:1. Marquez North | 2. Vincent Dallas
WR:1. Jason Croom OR Josh Smith
LT:1. Tiny Richardson | 2. Jacob Gilliam
LG:1. Alex Bullard | 2. Marcus Jackson
C:1. James Stone | 2. Mack Crowder
RG:1. Zach Fulton | 2. Dylan Wiesman
RT:1. Ja’Wuan James | 2. Kyler Kerbyson
DE:1. Corey Miller | 2. LaTroy Lewis
DT:1. Daniel Hood | 2. Danny O’Brien
DT:1. Daniel McCullers | 2. Maurice Couch
DE:1. Jordan Williams | 2. Marlon Walls
LB:1. Dontavis Sapp | 2. Curt Maggitt
LB:1. A.J. Johnson | 2. John Propst
LB:1. Brent Brewer | 2. Greg King
CB:1. Cameron Sutton | 2. Reggie Juin
CB:1. Justin Coleman | 2. Malik Foreman
S:1. Brian Randolph | 2. Max Arnold
S:1. LaDarrell McNeil | 2. Byron Moore
Nickel:1. JaRon Toney | 2. Devaun Swafford
K:1. Michael Palardy | 2. George Bullock
P:1. Michael Palardy | 2. Matt Darr
KOS:1. Michael Palardy | 2. George Bullock
LS: 1. J.R. Carr | 2. Matt Giampapa
H: 1. Tyler Drummer | 2. Matt Darr
PR: 1. Devrin Young | 2. Cameron Sutton
KR: 1. Devrin Young and Pig Howard
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter@DanielNooga