No rock will go unturned in Tennessee’s latest quarterback competition.
Butch Jones said Monday that all four quarterbacks – Justin Worley, Nathan Peterman, Joshua Dobbs and Riley Ferguson – will vie for the starting job against No. 10 Missouri (7-1, 3-1).
Injuries could play a factor in deciding the starter. Worley is day-to-day with a thumb injury, Peterman will practice for the first time since breaking his hand against Florida and Ferguson is in a walking boot, although Jones downplayed Ferguson’s injury, saying “half our team is in a walking boot.”
Jones is in no rush to name a starter.
"However long it takes,” Jones said. “It could go all week. I never put a time frame on anything. It is how they develop. We are going to play the individual who gives us the best opportunity to win on Saturday."
The prerequisites for the quarterback who gets the nod hasn’t changed from the last open competition. Jones is searching for an alpha male, someone who possesses command of the offense, poise in the pocket and won’t turn the ball over.
Jones believes Dobbs exuded most of those qualities in his debut against Alabama.
Dobbs threw for 75 yards on a 5-of-12 performance and also added a spark with his legs, scrambling for 19 yards on three carries.
The freshman’s statistics are promising considering the ruckus road environment against the nation’s top-ranked team, but what impressed Jones most won’t show up on the stat sheet.
Dobbs was confident.
The 6-foot-3, 193-pounder was vocal on the sidelines, commanding in the huddle, and was business as usual when he returned to Knoxville and the film room Sunday.
“You’d never know he played,” Jones said. “…Either you’re a fountain or a drain, and every day he’s a fountain.”
Jones said the entire playbook was at his disposal with Dobbs in the game.
“He is a 4.0 student, I think he has a photographic memory, he is extremely bright, he is competitive, so we don't have to scale down the playbook one bit with him,” Jones said.
While Dobbs was the recipient of much praise, Jones isn’t about to hand him the starting job just yet.
Jones is pleased with Peterman’s preparation despite being sidelined for four weeks.
“Nate Peterman has been outstanding in our position meetings. He is an individual who has been out for several weeks, but you would never know it with his preparation,” Jones said. “He is in there filling his notebook in the meetings. That is extremely healthy for a football program and that position.”
The most important requirement for Saturday’s starter is ball security. It won’t be easy against a Missouri defense that has forced a turnover in 38-straight games, which is the longest active streak in the BCS.
Worley threw his first interception since South Alabama against the Crimson Tide, which resulted in an 89-yard touchdown.
Worley wore gloves in the practices leading up to Alabama, but was without them Saturday. Jones said there was only one time where the ball slipped out of Worley’s hand.
“That ball holds all of our dreams, goals and aspirations,” Jones said.
Jones is willing to do “whatever it takes to win,” but said he doesn’t like the idea of playing two quarterbacks.
Moving Reeves-Maybin… again
Tennessee limped through a thrashing against Alabama both figuratively and literally.
Byron Moore suffered a sprained ankle, Brian Randolph dinged up a shoulder and Justin Worley re-injured his throwing-hand thumb.
Jones said Monday that both Moore and Randolph are expected to return, but freshman Jalen Reeves-Maybin will be moved back to safety for depth reasons.
Reeves-Maybin was moved from safety to linebacker during summer camp. The early enrollee spent all of spring practice as a safety.
Jones isn’t concerned about the position flip-flopping stunting Reeves-Maybin’s development.
“He's a very cerebral young man and intelligent, so that won't be an issue,” Jones said.
Red team rage
The 45-10 final glowed on the scoreboard. Flickers from lighters and matches pressed to cigars spanned Bryant-Denny. Rammer Jammer was screamed.
The crowd was filled with the jubilance from a rivalry victory.
But most of the celebration stayed in the stands.
Alabama players jogged off the field, eyes peeled straight ahead, faces emotionless. It was zombie-like, business as usual.
Not A.J. McCarron.
The Crimson Tide quarterback waived to the still-standing crowd as he exited, smirking and nodding to the tune of victory.
McCarron got word of Tennessee referring to Alabama as “the red team.” He didn’t like it.
"I took it personal,” McCarron said. “I wanted to come out and score as many points possible, and I didn't want to come out of the game either."
Jones’ latest mental-toughness ploy may have been bulletin board material for Alabama’s gunslinger, but Jones said he doesn’t regret using the term, adding it was used out of respect.
“I think Alabama's built such a great reputation and very deservingly so, that I think when you go play Alabama, the name Alabama gives them 14 points already because of the respect that people have,” Jones said. “I said it last week and I'll continue to say it. I respect their football program and what they've done as much or more than anyone in the country. I have to prepare our football team and it's part of them understanding that it's a great rivalry.”
Joshua Dobbs wasn’t the only quarterback receiving praise during Butch Jones’ Monday press conference.
“He's able to take a bad play and turn it into a big play. He's able to scramble and move around,” Jones said. “He throws exceptionally well out of the pocket, and he's got a little bit of swagger to him. He’s a winner. He makes plays.”
Jones was referring to Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk.
The Tigers haven’t missed a beat since the redshirt freshman took over for customary starter James Franklin.
Jones is very familiar with Mauk, and not just from film study and stat sheets.
The first-year head coach recruited the gunslinger while at %%MATCH_15%% and signed his brother, Ben.
"Well we were engaged in a great recruiting battle. Maty Mauk's a winner. He's the son of a football coach, so he's a gym rat,” Jones said. “He grew up with a football in his hand since the day he was born. I'd said he's a winner and he's a playmaker. He's a very, very talented quarterback."
In two starts, Mauk has thrown for four touchdowns and piled up 585 passing yards.
Missouri’s 224.5 passing yards per game ranks second in the SEC.
“Missouri is a tremendous team,” Jones said. “They’re a model of consistency.”
Referring to Alabama as “the red team” apparently didn’t do the trick.
Jones said his team had anxiety before and during its matchup against the top-ranked Tide.
"I thought we had a lot of anxiety. Anxiety can affect you in a negative sense in terms of freezing up, not playing your fastest, it consumes you, it creates hesitation,” Jones said. “I thought a lot of times we had hesitation, especially in the first half. There is a lot of positive lessons, a lot of negative lessons, but all powerful lessons. We need to learn from it and continue to move forward.”
Butch Jones, per university