KNOXVILLE -- Justin Worley felt he'd done enough over the course of the offseason and preseason practice to earn the job as Tennessee's starting quarterback.
Now that the junior has been handed the reins to the Volunteers' new-look offense, he fully can embrace all the details of the important position.
When coach Butch Jones and offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian met Sunday night with Worley and the three quarterbacks he edged out for the starting spot, the message was simple.
"He just said, 'You're our guy going into week one,'" Worley said Monday afternoon. "He told me he didn't want me to have any worries looking over my shoulder and things like that about playing the position. He told me, 'Take control of this team -- it's your team -- and take this opportunity and run with it.'
"It's an honor and privilege to play quarterback here."
Though the 6-foot-4, 222-pound former national Gatorade player of the year, who threw a South Carolina-record 64 touchdown passes as a senior at Northwestern High School in Rock Hill, took most of the first-team reps in practice, the race involving also redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman and true freshmen Riley Ferguson and Josh Dobbs went deep into preseason practice.
In the end, Worley's ability to take care of the football and his game experience -- none of the other three quarterbacks have taken a snap in a college game -- were the decisive factors in his favor.
Jones made it clear he doesn't want Worley worrying about his job security. Peterman is the backup quarterback, and ideally the Vols would like to redshirt one of the freshmen. The Vols have no plans of rotating multiple quarterbacks, and the flow of Saturday's opener against Austin Peay will dictate if Peterman plays.
"Right now Justin Worley's our starter, and he's our starter," Jones said. "I don't want our quarterbacks, if they make a mistake, they're looking over and wondering when they're going to get the hook. That's not how I believe in developing quarterbacks, but they have to produce. We have to be patient as well."
Worley is rather soft-spoken, and Jones still wants to see him become more vocal and improve his leadership.
"It's just continually learning how to lead and how each guy responds to different styles of leadership or whether you need to get on them hard or really just coach them," Worley said.
Jones said Worley's leadership remains a work in progress.
"It's one thing to lead when things are going great," he said. "The mark of a great quarterback is leading your team to victory in the one-minute drill on the road and having that poise and that confidence that it takes to manage an entire offense. There's room for growth and development there just like every single player in our football program.
"When things start to go wrong, or when things don't go according to plan -- which they very rarely do go according to plan -- all eyes are going to look at the quarterback, the way they manage the huddle before we take the field, the way they have a command presence, the way they take control of the line of scrimmage. That's what quarterbacks do. That's part of the job description."
Though he's not the best runner and does not have the strongest arm among the Vols' four options at quarterback, Worley has the best grasp of the offense. He has organized offseason work with teammates throughout his career and carried himself like a starter all offseason.
"He's a junior now, and it's his job to be that alpha male," right tackle Ja'Wuan James said. "I was soft-spoken, I was just listening to the leaders and stuff like that, but he's done that, you could tell, this summer and this camp. He's done a better job of trying to be more vocal and take control of the offense.
"We've got confidence in him now. You see him getting confidence in himself. He's starting to play with a little bit of swag, so you could tell he's feeling himself."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 ...
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