Dooley and DurhamDerek Dooley drops a reference to "Bull Durham" when talking about his offense's huddle with freshman Justin Worley.
KNOXVILLE — It was Justin Worley's arm that first attracted Tennessee to the 6-foot-4, 200-pound quarterback.
When the freshman arrived on campus in January, though, the focus shifted to his feet.
As a prolific passer in an shotgun-every-snap, quick-passing spread offense at Northwestern High School in Rock Hill, S.C., Worley hardly ever took a snap from under center or executed a normal fake handoff. True dropbacks were foreign techniques.
That all had to change when he joined the Volunteers and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney's more traditional pro-style offense.
"The biggest thing was working on my feet, and [quarterbacks] Coach [Darin] Hinshaw has done a great job of working on my footwork and getting me faster in the backfield," Worley said after UT's practice Tuesday morning. "That's been the biggest adjustment, and also just the speed of the game, going through reads quicker and getting the ball out quicker. I knew I wanted to come to a pro-style offense. Coach Chaney, he lives and dies by that, and I love it here."
The offense Worley played in high school suited him just fine, as he put up state-record numbers during his career, including a 64-touchdown senior season. Among all the adjustments he's had to make leading up to his third start Saturday at No. Arkansas, it all began with simple things like dropbacks and executing effective play-action fakes.
"It's hard; it takes time," UT coach Derek Dooley said. "So many high schools now, they don't even know how to take a snap from center. You catch the ball, and it's one step and throw. Three-step drop, five-step drop, play-action -- all that's new, it is.
"But that's what he wanted. He wanted a pro-style offense. He's worked hard it; he's gotten a lot better at it. But it still shows up a lot. He's a little off-balance when he plants. It takes a lot of practice."
It also takes some experience in live game action, which Worley has gotten the last two weeks against South Carolina and Middle Tennessee State. Not surprisingly, he was much more effective against the Blue Raiders last week, both in the shotgun and under center.
Of his 32 passes, Worley was in the shotgun for 23 of them, completing 17 for 184 yards. He was effective under center as well, though, completing six of nine passes for 107 yards and his lone touchdown, which was a deep post route off a play-action fake to Da'Rick Rogers. He overthrew an open Rogers on a couple of deep passes, which were mistakes Worley attributed to high adrenaline.
Worley acknowledged that skipping the spring semester of his senior year in high school to enroll early was a decision that's paid off by giving him more time to adjust some of his mechanics.
"In the summer we had 7-on-7 [drills] and just played a lot and threw routes to receivers and stuff to get their timing and our chemistry right," he said. "Coming here in the spring, I mean, it's made the biggest difference, in my opinion. I wouldn't change it at all."
In addition to his footwork, Worley's had to improve his game management, especially since he was handed the starting job. Dooley admitted he doesn't always know exactly what's going on inside the offensive huddles, and he even mimicked blank stares that come inside the huddle of a young offense like UT's.
"Part of me doesn't want to know what's going on, but I think it's been better," the coach said. "I know this: The players all said Justin was a lot more confident and had a lot more swagger to him. I went through this with Tyler [Bray] last year about how do you deliver a play. You can deliver a play to the other 10 guys, and it either inspires confidence in them that you know what you're doing or they break the huddle going, 'We've got no chance.'
"It's all how you deliver, the kind of command you deliver it with, the tone of your voice, what are you emphasizing. The real confident veteran quarterbacks, they know how to deliver a play to where everybody around them feels good about what we're about to do. I think Justin's gotten better at that."
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...