Butch Jones is entering his second year on Rocky Top, and this offseason has been a sequel to the last at one important position—quarterback.
As was the case last year, Tennessee is still searching for the right man to take the snaps with essentially the same cast.
Justin Worley is back for his senior season on Rocky Top, after an up-and-down campaign as a junior that saw the Rock Hill, South Carolina, native win the job exiting fall camp, struggle with consistency downfield, get benched, come back back and play well only to suffer a season-ending hand injury in the Alabama game in late October.
Joshua Dobbs took his place, and the then-true freshman made plenty of true freshman mistakes. The Alpharetta, Georgia, dual-threat signal-caller threw only two touchdowns and six picks for the year. But he came on strong in the spring game with 199 passing yards, three passing touchdowns and 59 rushing yards with a rushing touchdown, according to stats released by Tennessee.
Redshirt sophomore Nathan Peterman has taken a back seat in the battle, and reports surfaced earlier in the offseason that redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson is leaving the program, via John Brice of Rivals.com (subscription required).
|Tennessee QB Stats—2013|
So who should win the battle?
It should be Worley, and it should happen early in fall camp, provided he shows that he hasn't regressed.
Yes, I know, Dobbs showed he had big-play ability in the spring game. But Jones told B/R during spring practice that Worley had improved his accuracy downfield.
"Justin Worley has really improved greatly, from leadership to his ability to make all of the throws, particularly the deep balls," Jones said.
He's also put on weight in the offseason, as Wes Rucker of GoVols247.com notes:
Few mention this because he’s a pure passer, but #Vols QB Justin Worley is so much bigger than he was 4 years ago. He’s a legit 224 now.— Wes Rucker (@wesrucker247) June 6, 2014
For Worley to lose the job, he needs to show massive regression and have Dobbs set the world on fire in fall camp. Otherwise, Jones would be wise to stick with the senior, who has the experience under his belt for this particular Vols team—which has a small village of weapons outside, including Marquez North, Josh Malone and Von Pearson.
With no returning starters on the offensive line, it's safe to guess that protection may be an issue for the Vols in 2014. Maybe Dontavius Blair emerges as a superstar at tackle and the entire unit comes together during fall camp, and if it does, that's a bonus. But Jones can't count on that.
Tennessee needs someone taking snaps who won't press the issue and take risks when the pressure comes in his face. It needs someone who will take the checkdown or throw it away when it's appropriate.
In his final two starts before further injuring his thumb against Alabama, Worley looked pretty solid, throwing for 394 yards, two touchdowns and zero picks in the overtime loss to Georgia and upset win over South Carolina.
Jones can't let this battle linger like it did last year, when Worley won the job in the week leading up to the season-opener vs. Austin Peay. It was clear from the moment toe met leather that Worley was uncomfortable under center, and he only got comfortable after getting benched prior to the Florida game.
Tennessee needs stability, and Worley brings stability.
Because of that, he should be Tennessee's starting quarterback, and it needs to be set in stone sooner rather than later.
* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted, all stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.com.