published Saturday, March 15th, 2014

Vols' QBs mix good, bad plays in first scrimmage

Justin Worley
Justin Worley
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE — For every good throw, there was another one missed.

For every long run or touchdown pass, there was a mistake, a sack, or a turnover -- the worst play of all.

All four of Tennessee's competing quarterbacks took first-team reps in the Volunteers' first spring scrimmage on a windy, chilly Friday afternoon inside Neyland Stadium, but there was little in the way of obvious separation in the race for the starting job.

"Playing quarterback, you can't have a situation where you press," said Justin Worley, who won the job last season. "Late in the fourth quarter, or in the one-minute drill, you can't be pressing, or you're going to be tight and not be able to perform well.

"I think each one of us has done a great job of taking what we're given in terms of reps, in terms of what the defense is giving us and kind of running with it."

Worley's afternoon may have the microcosm of the day for the Vols' quartet of quarterbacks. On the opening series, he drove the offense down the field with short completions to receivers Josh Malone and Marquez North, and on third down he scrambled to his right waiting for a receiver to break open and hit freshman tight end Ethan Wolf in the back of the end zone.

On one of his later turns, Worley threw a bad interception when a throw off his back foot was picked off by safety LaDarrell McNeil in the end zone.

"I don't think one play's more important than the other," he said. "I've got to go back and assess everything, but I mean, yeah, you'd like to focus on the touchdown. Realistically, you probably want to focus on the negatives to improve on those."

Riley Ferguson threw a couple of touchdown passes, including a long one to North, who burned freshman cornerback Emmanuel Moseley on the play, but he was one half of a fumbled handoff near the goal line, threw an illegal forward pass after his initial pass was batted at the line back to him and took a fourth-down sack.

Josh Dobbs, who finished last season for Tennessee, broke off a nice 25-yard run on his second series, but he also was sacked a couple of times and fumbled on a play that resulted in a defensive touchdown.

Nathan Peterman broke off a long run on his first snap and later completed a long pass to receiver Jacob Carter to convert a third-and-17, but he missed an open Johnathon Johnson on third down late in the scrimmage.

"First of all, we can't turn the football over," coach Butch Jones said. "We had the interception in the red zone, which [when] you have points on the board, you can't do that. These are all great learning experiences. That's why you practice. We had the fumbled exchange on the goal line as well. That can't happen.

"I thought we made a lot of the big throws that we needed to, the routine throws. It was great to see the completion throws that we expect. I thought they did some great things. It was great to see."

Jones made the quarterbacks live for contact for the entire scrimmage.

"So much occurs when you make the quarterback live," he explained. "First of all, I want to see what players could create plays in terms of the quarterback position. Who could manufacture themselves out of bad situations?

"It was great to see them create, also the scramble drill, but also to see how we could tackle the quarterback in space, and we did not do a good job with that."

Though Worley was the first-team quarterback when the offense first took the field, the Vols rotated the four quarterbacks across the first- and second-team offenses fairly evenly through the scrimmage's 17 possessions.

"I think of all of us kind of watch each other, because we're told to take mental reps," Peterman said. "That's what we're all trying to do, is put ourselves in the other guys' shoes and say, 'Hey, what do we do there?' and get the look from the defense. I think it's very beneficial to do that."

Said Ferguson: "We're just going out and being who we are, playing quarterback and trying to get better every day. That's what we're all focused on: helping each other and just trying to get better as a unit."

The Vols will take the next 10 days off from practice for the school's spring break, and the quartet of battling quarterbacks will resume trying to stand out from the rest.

"It's a great battle going on," center Mack Crowder said. "The competition makes them push even harder, which is awesome. Right now they're all doing very well.

"I don't think they're really focused on who's taking the reps. I think it's just whenever they get in there, they're making them as valuable as possible. The competition's awesome, so whenever they do get in there, they're trying to be perfect."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com

about Patrick Brown...

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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