KNOXVILLE — The mystery will continue.
Tennessee is staying mum on its uncertain situation at quarterback, and at least publicly, the end of the competition for the starting job reopened by first-year coach Butch Jones may not be near.
"It could go all the way up to pregame," Volunteers offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian said following Wednesday afternoon's practice.
After Justin Worley's struggles in the first three games, Jones said Monday the competition would be more open this week than it's been, but that may not result in a change when Tennessee faces 19th-ranked Florida and its elite defense on Saturday afternoon in Gainesville.
If the Vols elect to replace the junior with either redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman or a true freshman, either Riley Ferguson or Josh Dobbs, Tennessee will throw a first-time starter into a hostile environment against a salty defense, though Bajakian said the decision is based more on execution than the atmosphere.
Tennessee also could elect to start Worley, see how he plays and go from there.
Whatever the Vols decide, they probably won't broadcast their plans, though Bajakian did did say the practice reps had been distributed "pretty evenly" this week.
"They're embracing competition," he said. "I feel like broken record, but we always talk about the process, and part of the process is improving on a daily basis, and part of that is competing on a daily basis. Everybody has approached it with the mentality that they're going to compete and improve every day.
"I think new life for everybody, there's a little more energy, that's for sure."
Bajakian said it's been "business as usual" this for Worley.
"They're competitors, all of them, all four of them," he said. "They come out to compete every day. It's lit a fire beneath him, and he's competing."
Muschamp talks mystery
On Wednesday's SEC coaches teleconference, Florida coach Will Muschamp was asked how the Gators were handling Tennessee's mystery at quarterback during their preparations.
"We've really only seen Worley and Peterman on film, so you've got to prepare for what you see," he said. "Butch did an outstanding job at Cincinnati of having a similar style of quarterback as far as some of the things they ask you do in the run game. Obviously we've looked at those things, and we'll make adjustments on game day.
"That's really what it all comes down to. Different guys have different strengths, and they're going to accentuate those guys in different ways and we'll just make adjustments on game day. That's part of the deal."
Defensive line coach Steve Stripling said defensive end Jacques Smith was "rusty" against Oregon, his first game back in the lineup following thumb surgery in early August.
The former Ooltewah standout only returned to practice last week and played with a protective club on his right hand. Smith finished with three tackles, but one he missed was more noticeable. He was in position to stop Marcus Mariota on an option play, but the Ducks' elusive quarterback scooted beyond Smith's reach and scored on the second-quarter play.
"It's just knocking off the rust, but that's a great thing," Stripling said. "This week he's better, and that's the key, is to keep bringing him along, as well as everybody else. I know he's excited to be out there.
"He brings a little juice, a little snap, a little energy, so it's good."
On his weekly radio show on Wednesday night, Jones said slot receiver Pig Howard and freshman defensive end Corey Vereen, who underwent knee surgery last month, would play on Saturday, while linebacker Curt Maggitt would not play and offensive lineman Mack Crowder, the backup center who's doubled as a second tight end in some run-heavy sets, would be a game-time decision.
Slot receiver Johnathon Johnson (leg), who again worked out on the side of practice on Wednesday, is also questionable for Saturday.
Bajakian said "at least eight or nine guys" on Florida's defense will play in the NFL. ... Muschamp was asked on the teleconference about his flirtation with Tennessee's coaching vacancy in 2008. "I don't want to get into all that," he answered. "That was a little blown out of proportion." ... Former Tennessee defensive back Inky Johnson was named to the SEC's 2013 Legends Class on Wednesday. He suffered a career-ending shoulder/neck injury against Air Force in 2006 and has since become a motivational speaker and author. Johnson spoke to the Vols following an April practice.
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 ...