With a horde of highly touted youngsters sprinkled throughout its offensive depth chart, Tennessee has enough talented playmakers to improve significantly in 2014.
The Volunteers just have to find somebody to get them the football.
A four-man, free-for-all quarterback battle in the spring failed to yield a clear starter. Then, one of those candidates near the top of the list—redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson—abruptly and surprisingly transferred.
That leaves senior Justin Worley as the most likely candidate to start. He was the leader in the clubhouse for the job anyway, with the most experience and a keen grasp of the offense.
Considering talented but inexperienced players like Josh Malone, Jalen Hurd, Von Pearson, Ethan Wolf and Daniel Helm are expected to play huge roles in UT's offense, having a seasoned quarterback at the helm is important.
But reversing the fortunes of last year's putrid offense that ranked 12th in total offense, next to last in passing yards and 11th in points scored in the SEC begins with improved quarterback play.
Let's take a look at Tennessee's depth chart once fall practice begins a month from now.
No. 1 Quarterback: Justin Worley
Worley finally has started looking like a leader.
A season ago, the Rock Hill, South Carolina, resident struggled mightily to begin the season as Tennessee's starter. He was even benched prior for the Florida game before taking over again after Nathan Peterman's forgettable half at the helm.
Fans clamored for head coach Butch Jones to play one of his ballyhooed freshmen (Ferguson or Joshua Dobbs) and put Worley on the pine.
But a funny thing happened on the way through Worley's abbreviated season: He got progressively better, even if the stats didn't bear it out.
Maybe it was his willingness to take shots, but the progression was obvious in the workload Jones put on his quarterback's shoulders.
In a close but shaky win over South Alabama, a narrow miss against Georgia, a signature win over South Carolina and a half before an injury ended his season against Alabama, Worley tried to command the offense.
He wasn't always successful, but he looked like he'd at least shed the training wheels.
|Slowly But Worley: 2013 Game-By-Game Stats|
Worley enjoyed his best stretch of football in the Vols' comeback against the Bulldogs that forced overtime.
Then, against the Gamecocks, he had the guts to throw a heave-and-hope prayer answered by Marquez North to set up the game-winning field goal.
This spring, Worley led the offense much better at times. While he didn't make the spectacular plays, he didn't make catastrophic ones either. His maturation was evident in the Orange and White Game as he meticulously made all the passes, was more crisp with his timing and accuracy and took care of the ball.
Dobbs stole the show, but Worley's steady work came against the first-team defense.
You aren't ever going to get superstar numbers from Worley, but he may be just what this UT offense needs this year—a steadying force to distribute the ball to the weapons around them and let them do the rest.
No. 2 Quarterback: Joshua Dobbs
Few collegiate athletes are more impressive off the field than UT sophomore quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who is going to school to be an aerospace engineer while playing in the SEC.
His career at Alpharetta High School was strong enough for Dobbs to be ranked as the nation's No. 10 pro-style passer, according to the 247Sports composite rankings.
Now, he just has to translate all of that success to the college field. For one April afternoon at UT's spring scrimmage, he looked like he wasn't far from doing that.
Dobbs finished the Orange and White Game 6-of-9 passing for 199 yards, three touchdowns and a long rushing touchdown. Though most of that work came against the second-team defense, it wasn't the numbers that were the most important aspect.
His touch on the deep ball, zip on other passes and post-snap progressions were extremely polished, and those areas had been major issues for Dobbs throughout his brief UT career.
Jones told GoVols247's Wes Rucker (subscription required) it was Dobbs' "best performance of the spring in the spring game."
It was a glimpse of what Dobbs can be, but he hasn't put it all together yet.
In 2013, Dobbs was forced into action before he was ready. He showed flashes of ability, but he never strung together enough plays to prove he was able to be an SEC-caliber quarterback.
With a bowl game in play, Dobbs played his worst game against Vanderbilt, and the Vols couldn't get bowl-eligible. His only win as a starter came in a meaningless finale against Kentucky.
Still, all the tools are there. Dobbs has worked on his arm strength and packed on weight, now checking in at 203 pounds. He also traveled to California to participate in the Whitfield Quarterback Academy with Worley, according to 247Sports' Brad Pope.
Even after stellar spring finales, the duo went to work even harder. That's a good sign for the Vols.
Dobbs has put in the work to make a run at the starting job once fall camp starts. At worst, his 2013 experience and considerable skill set gives Tennessee fans comfort knowing if Worley is hurt or falters, Dobbs has been through the battles.
If he keeps making strides, Dobbs will be the Vols' quarterback of the future. Many more days like the spring finale, and it may be this year.
No. 3 Quarterback: Nathan Peterman
Very few SEC teams have a third-string quarterback with starting experience, even if Peterman would probably like to forget last year's Florida game.
The 6'2", 225-pound redshirt sophomore is a former 3-star prospect and the nation's composite No. 17 pro-style quarterback.
The light hasn't come on yet for the Jacksonville, Florida, product, but from a physicality and arm strength standpoint, there are tools on which to build. While the physical elements are present, Peterman makes too many mistakes.
Jones has never ruled Peterman out of the quarterback race, so it's not out of the question that once a light comes on, the sophomore could become a bigger factor. There just haven't been any concrete signs that is ready to happen yet.
With prospects like Quinten Dormady and Jauan Jennings on the way in 2015, Peterman could get lost in the shuffle. But having a big, strong-armed quarterback who is athletic enough to run a little as this season's third-stringer is not a bad position in which to be.
The Vols are fortunate to have somebody with experience that far down the depth chart, and Peterman still has three seasons to progress and compete.
All recruiting rankings and statistics courtesy of 247Sports Composite.
Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter here:
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