Position battle: QB

Justin Worley

InsideTennessee is bringing its readers a series of articles analyzing Big Orange football's key position battles. The series kicks off today with a look at the quarterback competition.

Junior Justin Worley has three starts and 110 pass attempts to show for two years as a Tennessee quarterback. That's three more starts and 110 more attempts than the Vols' other QB candidates combined, none of whom has taken a snap at the college level.

Normally this kind of advantage in experience would make Worley the No. 1 quarterback come fall. Tennessee has a new coaching staff and a new offensive scheme this year, however, rendering Worley's experience in the old scheme somewhat moot.

Still, the junior has some factors in his favor:

He has played in front of 90,000 fans and a national TV audience. The Vols' other QBs have not.

He has directed a victory at the college level. Sure, it was against an outmanned Middle Tennessee squad (27-0) in 2011 but it still counts.

Finally, he spent 15 spring practices working with Tennessee's first-team offense in March and April. Conversely, redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman spent the spring directing second-teamers, with most of the wideouts being walk-ons who will not see the field come fall. Incoming freshmen Joshua Dobbs and Riley Ferguson did not participate in spring practice, meaning they are 15 workouts behind Worley and Peterman in terms of learning the new attack.

While the 15-practice head start Worley and Peterman gained during the spring is significant, it is not insurmountable. Ferguson and Dobbs will get every opportunity to prove themselves once preseason camp begins in August.

"The big thing is playing with a high level of consistency and managing the offense," head coach Butch Jones said recently. "Obviously, knowledge is power, so are they able to go from the classroom setting to the game field and play at a very high level? The big thing is managing our offense – getting us in the right plays, being the leader, being the alpha male – all of those things we talk about that's required in our offense to be the starting quarterback."

Nathan Peterman (pictured) is one of three scholarship freshmen fighting Worley for the starting job.
(Danny Parker/InsideTennessee.com)
Ferguson lost just two games as a starting quarterback during his days at Butler High in Matthews, N.C., and played through a fractured thumb his senior year. This suggests he is alpha male through and through. Dobbs is an honors student who plans to major in aeronautical engineering. Clearly, he has the intelligence to quickly absorb and process Tennessee's offensive scheme.

Of course, timing is everything. So, if Jones elects to start a freshman quarterback in 2013 choosing the right stretch of games will be paramount. Starting a rookie in the opener would allow him to face a weak Austin Peay team in Game 1 and a decent Western Kentucky squad in Game 2. Both games will be played at Neyland Stadium, so a confidence-building 2-0 start is possible.

Conversely, handing a freshman the reins for Game 3 (at Oregon) and Game 4 (at Florida) – two outings that project to be lopsided losses – could crush his confidence.

Starting a freshman in Game 5 against South Alabama makes sense until you consider that his next three games would be versus Georgia, versus South Carolina and at Alabama. That would be a gauntlet for a fifth-year senior, much less a true freshman.

Perhaps the ideal spot for a freshman to make his starting debut would be in November, when the Vols face four opponents of comparable talent – Missouri (in Columbia), Auburn (in Knoxville), Vanderbilt (in Knoxville) and Kentucky (in Lexington).

Even with a veteran offensive line, mobility could be a factor in the quarterback derby. Worley and Ferguson are considered pocket passers. Peterman is reputed to be a powerful runner but he wore a green (do not tackle) jersey most of the spring that prevented him from showcasing this skill. Dobbs is considered a good runner but eluding high school linebackers who clock 4.7s and 4.8s is a lot easier than eluding college linebackers who clock 4.5s and 4.6s.

Ultimately, here's the Vol quarterback race in a nutshell:

Worley has the edge in experience.

Peterman has the edge in running ability.

Ferguson has the edge in competitive fire.

Dobbs has the edge in intelligence.

Which edge will prove decisive? Most likely, even Butch Jones doesn't have the answer to that question yet.

See what Peterman said to the media after one of the scrimmages at Neyland Stadium this spring in the InsideTennessee video below:

Justin Worley

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