The news of Tennessee quarterback Riley Ferguson's likely transfer sent shock waves through Vol Nation, and it could have accompanying tremors that are felt on the depth chart in the near future.
UT coach Butch Jones all but confirmed to Volquest.com's John Brice (subscription required) at the SEC's annual spring meetings on Tuesday that the promising redshirt freshman would not be back with the Volunteers.
"Based on our recent conversations, I do not anticipate (Ferguson) to be a member of our football family moving forward," Jones said.
If Ferguson doesn't return to UT, the Vols' four-man quarterback derby will be reduced by one.
It's a blow for the present—and future—Vols depth chart. The 6'3", 189-pound Matthews, North Carolina, native had surged to the top of the competition to split first-team reps with senior Justin Worley by the end of spring practice.
He was expected to battle Worley and sophomore Joshua Dobbs for the starting spot throughout summer and into fall after redshirting last season following a stress fracture in his right leg.
Even if Worley won the job, the Vols were anticipating a heated and healthy quarterback race between Ferguson and Dobbs as the young Vols matured over the next couple of years.
Now, it seems Tennessee's future offensive leader has become "Dobbs-or-Bust" unless redshirt sophomore Nathan Peterman takes a major leap forward or a yet-unsigned prospect seizes the future job.
"I'm not sure how much this helps or hurts Tennessee," GoVols247's Wes Rucker said in an interview with Bleacher Report. "I think Ferguson had the most upside of Tennessee's four quarterbacks, but he was arguably the least consistent.
"I thought before this came out that Justin Worley was the starter going into the season, and obviously, this news doesn't change that. I think this potentially creates more long-term questions than short-term questions."
Tennessee currently sits in the top two for 5-star quarterback Torrance Gibson, the nation's top-ranked dual-threat signal-caller on 247Sports, according to Ryan Bartow (subscription required). But it will have to battle Auburn and others to get him on the Hill.
Other quarterbacks UT is still recruiting include Deondre Francois, Sheriron Jones, Sam Darnold and Travis Waller, among others. Targets Zach Gentry (Texas) and Brandon Wimbush (Penn State) are off the board.
On the bright side for UT, all those players have taken as many game snaps as Ferguson.
But there's no downplaying Ferguson's promise and potential. He wowed many around the program with some of the plays he made, including Jones.
UT's head coach told B/R's Barrett Sallee recently, "You know, Riley has an innate ability to create plays. I've been very encouraged."
Though Dobbs outshone Ferguson in the Orange and White spring game, Ferguson still had a more consistent spring, evidenced by Jones promoting him to split those reps with the starters.
With Ferguson's likely departure, the Vols must have Dobbs step up and take his game to another level.
Also, UT absolutely cannot strike out in signing an elite quarterback in the 2015 recruiting cycle. Closing the deal on Gibson, Francois or a similar talent just became imperative, and the Vols now should attempt to sign two more quarterbacks to go along with athlete commit Jauan Jennings, who will start his UT career under center.
If UT misses on its quarterback of the future this year, it could be a major obstacle in Jones bringing the Vols from their recent doldrums back into contention for the SEC.
Calling the loss of a player who had never taken a live snap in a college football game catastrophic is a stretch, but Ferguson's pending decision does take yet another talented name off the roster at a position where the Vols desperately need somebody to step up.
Now, their quarterback question mark has one less potential answer.
All recruiting rankings and statistics courtesy of 247Sports.
Brad Shepard is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Brad on Twitter here:
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