HOOVER, Ala. — The field was trimmed by one, but the race is still going.
And the finish line doesn't appear to be in sight.
For the second consecutive season, Tennessee's starting quarterback job is up for grabs, and coach Butch Jones, along with player representatives linebacker A.J. Johnson, defensive end Curt Maggitt and center Mack Crowder, had to talk about it at the SEC's annual media days.
"There's no need to rush," Jones told a group of local media before his round of interviews began.
"When one individual kind of distances himself," he added, "then that's when we will make him the starting quarterback."
It's a similar situation to what Tennessee faced heading into last preseason, but it'll have a different look from spring practice after redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson decided to transfer from the program in May.
His departure left Justin Worley and Joshua Dobbs to battle it out, with Nathan Peterman also in the mix.
Both Worley and Dobbs spent time in California working with known quarterback guru George Whitfield in May, and Worley was a counselor at the Manning Passing Academy in Louisiana this past weekend for a second straight year.
His performance there prompted Archie Manning to text Jones about "what a great job he did."
The always upbeat Jones is looking forward to sorting out the race come August.
"All three individuals gained probably the greatest value you can gain last year in terms of they all have live game repetitions," he said. "You can't put a price tag on that. I'm as encouraged and as optimistic at that position as anyone."
Praise for Pig
Slot receiver Alton "Pig" Howard's path back onto Tennessee's football team has yet to reach its completion, but the junior remains on track to get there.
Jones said "nothing has changed" regarding Howard's status and praised him for his work and approach this summer.
"He still has a couple weeks to go, but he's done well academically," he said. "I've been very, very proud of Pig Howard. That's part of the leadership and development of our football team. I put it on our player staff.
"Pig has changed his body makeup. He's in the best shape he's ever been in. Our players have embraced him, they've held him accountable and Alton has done a great job to date."
Howard led the Vols in receptions last season, and though his future with the program looked very shaky after he missed spring practice for personal reasons, it appears to be back on track.
"You always have certain circumstances in life, and they can change your life," Jones said. "They can make you better, or they can make you worse. I think this is a circumstance that has made Alton better, but he still has the parameters and the expectations set forth by the player staff and myself in continuing to move forward.
"Alton Howard is very, very, very talented, and he's put himself in a position right now to have a very good football season coming up."
Crowder started all of one game last season -- the Vols' upset of South Carolina, when Alex Bullard did not start due to disciplinary reasons -- but there he was Tuesday representing Tennessee's new-look offensive line.
The fourth-year junior admitted he was "a little surprised" he got the call to be one of the Vols' three player reps, and he realized there's a reason he was chosen.
"It is a responsibility for me step up as a leader like Curt and A.J.," he said. "I guess this does target us as one of the three biggest leaders on the team. It does in my head get me going for the rest of the season saying, 'All right, it's time to step up and play.'"
Said Jones: "He's been the individual who's really been consistent all year and been consistent since the day we came in. He's the leader of that offensive line, so he earned the right to be here."
Mosley on the mend
Freshman lineman Charles Mosley suffered a broken tibia when he and his family were involved in a single-car accident while driving to Knoxville earlier this month, and Tennessee is trying to get the 6-foot-5, 374-pound former four-star prospect from Brighton, located outside of Memphis, back to Knoxville.
"Right now there's some complications in terms of flying and driving just with his leg," Jones said, "but he's very, very fortunate and very, very blessed.
"We anticipate getting him back to campus for rehabilitation and all that here in the next couple weeks."
Jones said there's a "great chance" the entirety of Tennessee's 32-player signing class will qualify academically. The Vols are still awaiting word on junior college linebacker Chris Weatherd, the only player not on campus. Weatherd had some course work he needed to complete this summer so he can enroll.
Safety Brian Randolph is listed at 197 pounds, but Jones said during his time in the main media room Tuesday that the junior has put on 25 pounds. Tennessee's second-leading tackler missed spring practice after undergoing surgery on a shoulder that plagued him all last season. "He's back 100 percent healthy," Jones said.
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com.
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 ...