With the hope of increasing the number of offensive “splash plays” that go for big gains, first-year Tennessee head coach Butch Jones has opened up a quarterback competition in Knoxville.
Fresh off of a 59-14 loss at Oregon in which the Vols' offense struggled (it was their most lopsided defeat since 1910), Jones will decide between junior Justin Worley, redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman and true freshmen Riley Ferguson and Joshua Dobbs for the team's game at Florida this week.
“Just like any position in our program, it's open,” Jones said. “Whatever quarterback has the best week of practice will be the starter for Tennessee when we play Florida. If that means a freshman quarterback, that means a freshman quarterback. We'll add more quarterback run into our package this week. We just need to find ways to generate big explosive plays. If that's Josh Dobbs running the read option or Riley Ferguson, that's what we'll do.”
Worley has started each of Tennessee's first three games, going 35 of 57 through the air for 372 yards with five touchdowns and one interception, while Peterman has gone 6 of 12 for 40 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. Ferguson and Dobbs have not seen game action.
“You have to earn your spot each and every week,” Jones said. “We'll see what the freshmen can handle. Nate Peterman continues to progress along. He's an individual, at 6 a.m., he's the first person in the building every single day. He has a great grasp of knowledge. I continue to see him getting better. And I think Justin's getting better, but I just think competition is healthy. It's going to be a week-to-week process of who can manage the offense the best.”
Dobbs is intriguing because of the skill set he brings. The Class of 2013 Georgia product has good size at 6-3 and 190 pounds and brings athleticism to the position that the Vols have not seen in a long time. The dual-threat impressed in preseason camp with his ability to make defenders miss in space when he takes off and runs, and he also has very good arm strength with the ability to stretch the field. As Jones noted Monday, Dobbs could see action because of his ability to run the read option. Even an extra wrinkle such as that could help an offense in need of a jolt.
Worley, who still sits atop the depth chart, ranks 81st nationally in yards per completion, and he is not very mobile. While he ultimately could remain the starter, Jones may want a more athletic option at times at the position, especialy against defenses such as Florida and Alabama.
Jones said that he expects wide receivers Pig Howard and Johnathon Johnson back this week, so that should help the passing game. But expect some new wrinkles — and perhaps a new face or two — at times under center for the Vols as they gear up for a brutal stretch of games.
Dave Miller, the college football editor and writer for the National Football Post, is on Twitter @Miller_Dave.