Butch Jones took the SEC media day podium Tuesday as the coach of a Tennessee football team without a clear-cut starting quarterback a season removed from finishing ranked 13th in the league in passing.
So, why did he proceed to tell the circus of conference media and millions of fans watching on ESPNU that the position would be a "strength" for the Volunteers in 2014?
Because with the praise Justin Worley and Joshua Dobbs received this offseason and the infusion of dynamic playmakers around them, he's confident the Vols are going to enjoy a passing revival.
He should be.
There's far too much talent at Tennessee's skill positions for the quarterbacks not to thrive if they've got time to throw the ball.
Sophomore Marquez North is a physical specimen who is poised to emerge as a top-tier receiver. With some of the pressure lifted thanks to freshman Josh Malone and JUCO transfer Von Pearson, North should become a force.
Jones also went out of his way to praise the offseasons of Jason Croom and Alton "Pig" Howard, who both appear ready to make a bigger impact.
Throw in the freshman tight end duo of Ethan Wolf and Daniel Helm, and whoever wins the quarterback battle will feel like he walked into a pinball game with all these targets.
A season ago, UT's quarterbacks were atrocious, but they had to feel at times like the weight of the entire team was on their shoulders.
They couldn't generate any big plays in the running game, and teams double-teamed North because there were no other viable weapons.
All the talent Jones and his staff brought in will certainly benefit the position, but it's far from the only reason why optimism permeated his media day signal-caller discussion.
Even with one of the two quarterbacks who'd earned first-team spring reps—redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson—bizarrely transferring, UT still has three quarterbacks on the roster with SEC starting experience.
Worley had his two most complete performances of 2013 in his final two full games, completing 36 of 65 passes for 394 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers against Georgia and South Carolina before being lost for the season against Alabama.
Dobbs played his best game of the year in the season finale against Kentucky then followed that up with an electric Orange and White Game where he completed 6 of 9 passes for 199 yards, three touchdowns and a long rushing score.
So, both had some momentum going into the offseason.
Even after strong springs for both, they went to work harder than ever. Rather than soaking up the sun all summer, both UT signal-callers absorbed themselves in the playbook and weight room.
They also sought external advice to improve their games.
Both Worley and Dobbs traveled on their own dime to San Diego to participate in the prestigious Whitfield Quarterback Academy earlier this summer, according to 247Sports' Brad Pope.
Worley also excelled at the Manning Passing Academy this month, making it all the way to the semifinals. Jones told the media horde in Hoover, Alabama, that he received a call from legend Archie Manning complimenting Worley's performance.
Worley's performance drew rave reviews from analysts on hand as well. The nation's top passers were present at the event, and Worley was in the competition until nearly the end.
The most surprising takeaway from the Manning Passing Academy experience in regards to Worley was that his accuracy—a major weakness last year—was lauded by NFL draft analyst Michael Detillier.
That alone is reason for optimism.
Throwing accurately in a camp setting and with a 260-pound SEC defensive end breathing down your neck are two completely different things, but the returns on Worley's progress have been encouraging, to say the least.
The words from Jones on Tuesday only strengthen the idea that UT has gotten much better at the position from a year ago.
Dobbs also has been making noticeable strides. He hit the weights, packing on 15-20 pounds to get to his now-listed weight of 203. In that spring finale, Dobbs boasted surprisingly improved arm strength from just a year ago, and now he has the physical strength to go along with it.
Considering he was thrust into action much earlier than he needed to be last season, it's difficult to hold his five shaky games against him. If Dobbs takes the next step, he will compete with Worley for the job and have a bright future.
So, Jones' words may have been surprising to some, but they are hardly far-fetched.
Both of UT's viable quarterback candidates made tons of progress, and the Vols' offense will be transformed by the talent around them.
Jones is an eternally optimistic person whose enthusiasm is infectious, and that translates well in recruiting and permeates his players. But the coach has been frank all offseason about the obstacles his young team faces and the very real struggles that come with rebuilding a program.
For him to call out his quarterbacks as a team strength isn't just lip service.
All the ingredients are there for Tennessee to turn around its passing offense. The Vols just have to put everything together.
Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter here:
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