Coming off of one of the most impressive offensive seasons in Tennessee football history, putting points on the board this fall wouldn't seem to be an issue.
Even with four starters on the offensive and the top two running backs returning, the Volunteers are void of much experience at quarterback and wide receiver. That was evident Saturday morning at Haslam Field, but coach Butch Jones said his signal-callers got better for the evening scrimmage on Robert E. White Indoor Field.
"I see them gaining confidence," Jones said. "I see them gaining more and more command of the offense."
Junior quarterback Justin Worley says he needs to show more consistency passing the ball. However, a productive running game will help immensely with play action — a cornerstone of this scheme — to create larger windows for feeding the football to playmakers.
Whether it's Worley, Nathan Peterman, Joshua Dobbs or Riley Ferguson, the Big Orange needs someone to take the reins.
Jones says he will name a starting quarterback "when somebody really separates themselves." The improvement has been steady: "I see them getting better each and every day."
If the quarterbacks are in a cutthroat battle for the starter's job, someone should tell them that as they're leaning on each other for improvement.
"Especially with the freshmen, Nate and I have taken them under our wings and really helped them out a lot," Worley said. "We bounce things off each other. We're always asking questions to each other, coach Jake, coach Jones. We're playing together. We're all one Tennessee. You can't really go in disliking a guy."
The job of completing passes would be much simpler if those on the roster early last August scheduled to be back in 2013 (Justin Hunter, Cordarrelle Patterson, Da'Rick Rogers) were on Rocky Top. They're not but the show must go on, even if that means lining up true freshmen out wide and in the slot.
"There's always a learning curve. Everything happens at a fast pace. Not only are you getting a stance, knowing where to line up, dissecting the play call, worrying about your technique, depth of the routes and then playing with a physical presence that we expect and then playing fast. You know they don't have time to get into the huddle and digest the play call or the quarterback to say, 'Hey, you're going to run a 12-yard curl on this route.' So, everything goes fast. So, there is a learning curve."
|Vol coaches are pushing freshman wide receiver Ryan Jenkins at training camp, knowing he will need to play this fall.|
Having said all that, it's not only an expectation for assistant coach Zach Azzanni to help get this group ready to play on fall Saturdays, it's a must.
"We have no choice. They have to. So, we have no choice," Jones said.
Worley says the natural expectation is for chemistry with skill players to evolve as camp progresses. That should help everyone get on the same page before Aug. 31 arrives, but it's not guarantee.
"I think it's all about what they can handle and what they want to get out of it," Worley said. "So far I think all the freshmen have put in a ton of work to get to the part where they are and compete for positions."
In coordinator Mike Bajakian's scheme, the tempo and expectations of skill players can come with quite the learning curve for a newcomer.
"I don't think so especially with a lot of these high schools going to spread offenses," Worley said. "They kind of know what to expect coming in tempo-wise, even though we're trying to gear it up and go even faster and we demand a lot out of them. I think there's not as much of a learning curve to them."
See more of what was said about young wideouts like Ryan Jenkins, Johnathon Johnson, Marquez North, Josh Smith and the rest of the Tennessee offense in the footage below:
Nathan Peterman video interview
Justin Worley video interview
Quarterbacks throwing early into camp
Butch Jones video, per the university