Tyler Bray will not be under center when the Tennessee Volunteers open the season against Austin Peay on August 31st. That’s where the certainties about the quarterback position end for Tennessee. Bray, along with star receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson, declared for the NFL draft with a year of eligibility left. The Vols have plenty of options at quarterback, they had a solid recruiting effort at the position, along with the quarterbacks already on the roster. In fact ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer said he believes Tennessee had the best quarterback recruiting class in the nation.
Let’s take a look at Tennessee’s options for next year and who we believe would be the best fit to start their season opener. Keep in mind it’s only February and most of these guys have never hit the field for Tennessee.
Junior Justin Worley, the high school teammate of Cordarrelle Patterson, has seen the field sparingly in his first two seasons with Tennessee. When Tyler Bray was injured during the 2011 season Worley split time with Matt Simms. Neither player was very productive and the team went 1-4 in that stretch. Worley saw action in several games last year, but mostly in garbage time, except for the infamous Vanderbilt game where then head coach Derek Dooley pulled Bray in the second quarter. Worley played well, he did throw one interception, but was ready to come into the game.
Worley is a pocket passes that received offers from schools such as Florida, Florida State and LSU. His first two years at Tennessee have probably not went how he envisioned them. His next two may not go as well either. Worley has the skills to be a good quarterback in the SEC. How he will fit into Butch Jones’ system though, has yet to be defined. Worley is not the most mobile quarterback on the team and he isn’t the type that Jones has shown to favor, at least with who he’s recruited. Jones has repeatedly said he will tailor his offense to what he has to work with and not the other way around. That statement would probably bode well for Worley if it wasn’t for the other quarterbacks on the roster. Worley still has a good shot to be the starter come August 31st and he will be given every chance to win the job. He’s got the most experience, even if it isn’t a lot, but that could give him the edge.
When Butch Jones first took over as head coach it was widely believe that redshirt freshmen Nathan Peterman would benefit the most. Peterman was recruited by Jones at Cincinnati. Peterman isn’t exactly Johnny Manziel, but he is more mobile then Worley. He ran a similar offense to what Jones employs while he was in high school. Peterman has good arm strength and really sees the field well. He was already impressing in workouts last year, but with Bray having a lock on the job Peterman ended up taking a medical redshirt. The Florida native has tremendous upside and is fan favorite, despite never having played a game for Tennessee. He could very well be leading the Volunteers down the field this upcoming season.
Ferguson is another guy that would seemingly fit very well into Butch Jones’ uptempo offense. Ferguson has a great arm and can get the ball down the field. He’s mobile, again not blazing speed, but good enough to elude would be tacklers. He’s consistently been a winner, a trait that any coach loves to see. It wouldn’t be a total shocker to see him win the starting quarterback job, he’s plenty talented enough. The best thing he has going for him is that this is likely to be a very open competition. I’d expect to see coach Jones come in and view these players with a clean slate. I don’t think he has any preconceived favorites, and that bodes extremely well for Riley Ferguson.
Now you can see why many analysts are so excited about Tennessee’s group of quarterbacks. Josh Dobbs was a recruit that Tennessee flipped on national signing day. He had previously been committed to Arizona State. Butch Jones targeted Dobbs shortly after taking the Tennessee job. Dobbs is a pro style quarterback that can make plays out of the pocket. He’s extremely intelligent and is used to playing in the shotgun formation. Dobbs has a great arm, but at 6’3″ and 190 lbs needs to add some weight to his thin frame. Dobbs is plenty capable of being a starting quarterback as a true freshmen. He was a huge get for the Vols on signing day and the coaching staff is very excited about his abilities. He’ll have his chances to win the job, but even if he doesn’t he has a bright future.
Charlie High will join the Volunteers as a preferred walk on. He’s a local guy from Knoxville that received offers from Tennessee Tech and Tennessee-Martin. He’ll add depth to Tennessee’s quarterback group. But make no doubt about it, High can play. I don’t expect him to be in the mix for the starters job but if called upon he’d be ready. He’s an excellent guy to have on the roster and Vol fans shouldn’t overlook him.
There’s no clear cut favorite in the battle for the starting quarterback job. Head coach Butch Jones has said he’ll evaluate every player and everyone is starting fresh. Justin Worley has the only SEC game experience of the group and you would think that would give him a slight edge. I just don’t feel he’s the guy to lead this no huddle, up tempo offense. The first Saturday of the season is over six months away, but as of now I believe Nathan Peterman will be leading the Volunteers’ offense. Peterman has all the tools and is a guy Jones is familiar with from his days at Cincinnati. It’s quite possible that Riley Ferguson or Josh Dobbs redshirt this season to save a year of eligibility. I know Nick Saban says you can never have too many running backs on your team, but I tend to think you can never have too many quarterbacks. Anything can happen and just because you’re named the starter for week one doesn’t mean you’ll be starting all season. In 2004 Tennessee had two talented freshmen battling for the starting spot. Brent Schaeffer won the job over Erik Ainge and started the first game of the season. Ainge eventually took a strong hold on the starting job and Schaeffer ended up transferring.
A lot can happen between now and then but our full expectation is that Nathan Peterman will be the starting quarterback on Rocky Top this fall when the Volunteers take the field.