KNOXVILLE – It’s impossible to have a quarterback competition when there’s just one healthy player at the position.
That’s the situation UT found itself in late in 2013 after Justin Worley, Nathan Peterman and Riley Ferguson went down with various injuries. The lone man standing was then true freshman Joshua Dobbs, who became the starter by default for the final four games of the season.
All four were back on the practice field on Friday afternoon during Tennessee’s first spring practice of 2014. A light sleeve on Ferguson’s lower right ankle was the only slight reminder of last year’s injury plague at the position.
All four are full go at practice for the time being.
“It was great,” Jones said. “Never been through a year like last year with the injuries at that position. Competition is extremely healthy. Not just intrapositional competition, but on both sides of the ball. … That competition, that’s how you get better, that’s how you grow.”
“It was great just to be out there with all four of us out there running the offense and repeating,” Dobbs added. “It was awesome to get that back because we haven’t had that in a while. It was great for the offense as well.”
This spring brings new challenges for the quartet of QBs. For Dobbs, it’s proving he can be the starter even with three healthy challengers pushing him. For Worley, it’s getting back to his midseason form, a time when he, and the team, played their best in 2013.
Peterman needs to bounce back after a disastrous single start at Florida that yielded just five passing yards and two interceptions. He said he's watched film of that game on many ocasions, but never considered leaving the team despite slipping down the depth chart after the thumb injury he sustained that game.
And Ferguson, the only one who didn’t see the field in 2013, gets his first real chance in the QB competition after a hairline fracture in his lower leg prevented him from getting in the game mix last year.
"I feel like I have really good command," Ferguson, now a redshirt freshman, said. "Being out last year, I think that helped me a lot in just preparing and learning the playbook more and just off the field working with players and getting the chemistry down."
The job might not be claimed this spring, according to Jones. But the Vols have options. Overall experience might not be a strong point for this unit, but complacency shouldn’t be an issue with a true four-man battle unfolding.
“Each rep is for the becoming the starting quarterback,” Jones said. “Has there been a timetable set on who our starting quarterback is? No, there are no timetables. That person will emerge. I don't know if it is the second week of spring, after the conclusion of the orange and white game or a week prior to Utah State.
“That will take care of itself. Right now, they just have to work on making themselves better individually every day and being a leader. They have to prove that they can win at Tennessee."
• Out: WR Ryan Jenkins, DT Trevarris Saulsberry, TE Brendan Downs, TE A.J. Branisel, S Brian Randolph, WR Drae Bowles
• How the team lines up on its first day should be taken with a large grain of salt, but this was the first look UT went with on offense:
QB: Justin Worley
RB: Marlin Lane
WR: Jason Croom, Marquez North, Von Pearson (slot)
OL (left to right): Dontavius Blair, Marcus Jackson, Mack Crowder, Kyler Kerbyson, Coleman Thomas
TE: Ethan Wolf
QB: Nathan Peterman/Josh Dobbs/Riley Ferguson
RB: Jalen Hurd/Alden Hill
WR: Josh Malone, Josh Smith, Johnathon Johnson (slot)
OL (left to right): Jacob Gilliam, Austin Sanders, Ray Raulerson, Dylan Wiesman, Marques Pair/Brett Kendrick
TE: Daniel Helm
There was some subbing in and out and guys working with both units, but that should be a good starting point for a rough depth chart for the spring. We’ll update major changes as the spring progresses.
• As usual, the coaches didn’t hold back on anybody, including some of the highly-touted freshmen. Hurd, Malone and Helm all got some razzing from the coaches as part of their welcome to college football. Jones took to his microphone at one point to remind Hurd that he now represents Tennessee in everything he does.
• Hurd and Malone, the two most notable newcomers, both certainly have the frame to play in the SEC. Malone is long and rangy with great athleticism. The same goes for Hurd. Both look like a summer in the weight room will help, but they should be early-impact guys based on first impression. They both have some work to do, however, as they started off working with the second team.
• Devrin Young, listed as a receiver on the depth chart, got a lot of work with the running backs. Look for him to play some form of hybrid role this spring as the Vols look for the best way to utilize the shifty, 5-foot-8, senior.
• Freshman cornerback Emmanuel Moseley's speed stood out. He was one of several newcomers that worked with the kick returners and he looked to be one of the fastest players on the field in his first practice.
• Freshman right tackle Coleman Thomas worked with the starters and he looks the part more so than I thought he would. Relying on a freshman to start on the O-line in the SEC is always dangerous, but it's something the Vols might have to do this year. Two out of the five initial starters on the OL are newcomers with Thomas and Blair (JUCO transfer) both getting first-team reps.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga