The Tennessee Volunteers football team is now well into spring practice and the answer to the question “who will be under center for the Vols next season?” is still far from being answered.
What began as a wide open race between Justin Worley, Josh Dobbs, Riley Ferguson and Nathan Peterman, appears to be down to just two — junior Justin Worley and redshirt freshmen Nathan Peterman.
Peterman, who was recruited by Butch Jones at Cincinnati, was considered by many to be the front-runner as soon as Jones was hired. Jones runs a variant of the spread offense, a style that would appear to suit Peterman better.
Jones has remained adamant that he will build the offense around his quarterback and not the other way around.
The offense that Jones runs isn’t the prototypical spread offense that typically comes to mind when you hear the word “spread”.
The Vols will definitely spread the field, but this isn’t something that Vol fans are unaccustomed to seeing. Former offensive coordinator Jim Chaney spread the field out a lot last year. Chaney actually came from a spread offense background, he didn’t start incorporating a pro-style offense until after his time with the St Louis Rams. Current Ohio State coach Urban Meyer sought advice from Chaney when he took his first head coaching job at Bowling Green. Butch Jones and wide receiver coach Zach Azzanni both consider Meyer to be a mentor.
Spread offenses are often-times associated with the word finesse, but a finesse offense isn’t what Vols fans will be getting. Tennessee will run a lot of single back sets and you’ll see a lot of outside running, but the offense won’t be run exclusively in that manner.
Derek Wolfe, a former defensive lineman on the Butch Jones led Bearcats, had this to say about the offense that Jones runs:
A play might look like it’s going to be pass, and the next thing you know they’re running power. It’s nuts. There’s a lot of stuff for defenses to prepare for
It’s hard to sum up Jones’ offense in just a few simple paragraphs. Jones has said the Vols will still be somewhat of a pro-style team, taking shots down field and running the ball with power. One of the biggest differences for the Vols will be in the intermediate game. Jones likes to utilize his slot guys a lot, think Volunteer sophomore wide receiver Pig Howard.
The thought that Butch Jones requires a running quarterback is something that’s a misconception among a lot of folks.
Neither Worley or Peterman is considered a running quarterback. Both guys are pocket passing quarterbacks.
In fact there’s not a quarterback on the team that would be considered a “running quarterback”. So the slight advantage that was seemingly given to Peterman because of his better mobility, really isn’t an advantage at all.
The two main things that will determine who starts for the Vols this fall are on-field leadership and taking care of the football. Those two things will be more important then style of play.
Offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian added to that sentiment after the Vol’s final practice before spring break:
We emphasize completing the football, taking what the defense gives you and managing the football game…….then we emphasize getting rid of the football, being on time, being on rhythm and not taking sacks. A couple times today I thought we held onto the ball for a little bit too long, but overall I like the progress they’re making.
As far as leadership goes one would think that Worley would hold the advantage there — he’s the only quarterback on the roster to have in-game experience. Nathan Peterman, however, has been stepping up in practice this spring and taking on more of a leadership role.
Mike Bajakian: We emphasize in our meeting room, No. 1 leadership ability – and I saw Nate really step up his command presence at the line of scrimmage.
On field ability will of course be high on the list of characteristics that the coaching staff is looking for in it’s starting quarterback. Ultimately though, it will come down to decision making and leadership. The Vols will be running an up-tempo no-huddle offense. The pace of the offense will be quick and the quarterback will have to be someone that commands the field and is confident in himself and his teammates.
With less then a month until the Orange & White game the quarterback battle is in a dead heat. Both Worley and Peterman have performed well thus far, but as the coaches have acknowledged there’s still a lot of work to be done. Both guys are not only learning a new offense, they’re also trying to learn to be the centerpiece of the offense at Tennessee.
There’s a long way to go in this battle, but Butch Jones definitely doesn’t want to drag this process out, it’s better to have a starting quarterback in place to lean on so you can build around him. Jones though, has to make sure he makes the right decision and as Mike Bajakian quickly asserted after the Vols final practice before spring break — the final decision is that of coach Jones.
Quarterback battles are great for bringing out the best in guys before the season starts, but once a decision is made it can cause a lot of dissension is you keep going back and forth on the decision.
Tennessee is no stranger to an in-season quarterback controversy.
The 2004 season saw the Vol’s open the year with true freshmen Brent Schaeffer under center. Schaeffer was replaced as starter with Erik Ainge shortly thereafter. Ainge performed extremely well for the Volunteers before injuring his shoulder against Notre Dame right before halftime.
Ainge would miss the rest of the season.
Rick Clausen, brother of former Vol quarterback Casey Clausen, stepped in and led Tennessee to consecutive victories over Vanderbilt and Kentucky. Schaeffer and Clausen would then split time in the SEC championship game against Auburn, a game the Volunteers would lose 38-28. Schaeffer would play sparingly in the Vol’s win in the Cotton Bowl over Texas A&M.
Brent Schaeffer would ultimately transfer after the season, though it had more to do with off-the-field issues then the quarterback battle.
There really wasn’t a “quarterback controversy” in Knoxville in 2004, just a poor handling of the position. Erik Ainge should have been the starter all along. Ainge and Schaeffer mostly split time early in the season, but it was clear the better option was Ainge.
A situation like that is something Butch Jones will want to avoid, that’s why he’ll take his time to make the right decision. Jones will make sure he has the right guy and he’s got two pretty good options to pick from in Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman.