Vols' QB battle likely to continue into summer

AP News
Posted: Apr 13, 2013 7:20 PM
Vols' QB battle likely to continue into summer

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The end of spring practice next weekend probably won't end Tennessee's quarterback competition.

Tennessee coach Butch Jones said Saturday after the Volunteers' third spring scrimmage that he would like his quarterback candidates to keep battling for the starting job this summer. Junior Justin Worley and redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman are attempting to replace Tyler Bray, who bypassed his senior season to enter the NFL Draft.

"I want to see it continue to be openly competitive," Jones said. "I just think that's extremely healthy. I think in the world of football today, you can't just have one quarterback. You need to have three quarterbacks, and two quarterbacks minimum."

Jones also said freshman Josh Dobbs and Riley Ferguson "absolutely" would have a chance to compete for the starting job when they arrive on campus this summer. Jones said he didn't know whether he would even name a front-runner for the job after spring practice, which concludes April 20 with the Orange & White Game.

"It's open competition," Jones said. "That's why we really haven't paid attention to a depth chart. A depth chart is really for the first day and where you line up. Everything in our program is based off of competition. We're going to play the best players that we feel fit who will give us the greatest opportunity to win on Saturdays."

Jones' statements don't come as much of a surprise. At the start of spring practice, Worley and Peterman said they expected a wide open competition that might not be decided for quite some time.

"I'm not looking for an answer," Worley said. "If they want to tell the guys — everybody in our group — an answer before spring ends, that's their decision. There's competition day in and day out. You've got to bring your 'A' game with these guys."

The offensive backfield was the center of attention at Saturday's scrimmage, as running back Marlin Lane missed a second straight practice for disciplinary reasons. Jones said there was a possibility Lane could return before the end of spring practice.

Lane has been expected to provide a one-two punch with Rajion Neal at running back this fall. Neal rushed for 708 yards and five touchdowns on 156 carries last season. Lane ran 120 times for 658 yards and two touchdowns.

Lane's absence has created a chance for redshirt freshman Alden Hill to make a name for himself.

"It's not really (about) the opportunity but what you do with it," Hill said. "Take advantage of it and make every rep count."

Hill has done that so far. Running backs coach Robert Gillespie said Thursday that Hill had shown the most growth of any Tennessee running back this spring. Hill made some tough, productive runs Saturday that earned Jones' attention.

"Alden continues to get better and better," Jones said. "He still needs to continue to learn the little nuances of how to run the football and not bouncing things to the sideline. He's an interior runner. But he's an individual who brings it every day."

The offense did a better job Saturday after struggling in last week's scrimmage.

Each Tennessee scrimmage features a complex scoring system in which the offense and defense can earn points for big accomplishments. The offense overcame numerous turnovers to win Saturday's scrimmage 97-89 after losing to the defense 86-63 last week.

Peterman said he was inspired after listening to Denver Broncos quarterback and former Vols star Peyton Manning, who returned to campus this week and spoke to the team Friday before making a presentation at Tennessee's spring coaches' clinic. Peterman said listening to Manning was "one of the greatest experiences of my life."

"I took notes when he was talking to us in the team meeting," Peterman said. "I think I had four pages of notes and I wasn't even done. Just the amount of knowledge he has, it was an awesome opportunity."

Although the defense wasn't quite as sharp this week and the offense had plenty of turnovers early in the scrimmage, Jones said the Vols showed plenty of energy and intensity throughout the day.

"We're nowhere where we need to be, but I thought we took major strides in just our overall mentality, our effort, our accountability," Jones said. "We're in no way game ready, but I do see progress."

NOTES: Tennessee has announced the dates for its Big Orange Caravan, which features appearances from Jones as well as men's basketball coach Cuonzo Martin and women's basketball coach Holly Warlick. The caravan will make stops May 9 in Memphis, May 16 in Chattanooga, May 20 in Kingsport, May 21 in Atlanta and May 23 in Nashville. ... Former Tennessee defensive back Inky Johnson gave the team a pep talk after the scrimmage. Johnson suffered nerve damage in his right shoulder while making a tackle in a 2006 game and never played again. He now is a motivational speaker.