In 2012 the Tennessee Volunteers had a historic season offensively. They were led by future NFL players such as Tyler Bray, Cordarrelle Patterson, Justin Hunter and Mychal Rivera, in addition to Zach Rogers (who spent time in training camp with the New York Jets).
After losing all that talent, it was understandable that Tennessee’s offense didn’t exactly “click” in 2013. The Vols had little to no experience at all the skill positions except running back. Because of that it took some time for the offense to gel under the guidance of junior quarterback Justin Worley.
When the offensive eventually did come together, it didn’t last long due to Worley’s season-ending injury against Alabama. The Vols were then forced to turn to true freshman quarterback Josh Dobbs, who filled in admirably for Worley, but just wasn’t quite ready for the fast paced SEC.
This season the Vols will once again have a off-season quarterback battle, but there will be some additional weapons on the offensive side of the ball that will help whoever wins the job.
There’s literally no telling who the Volunteers’ offensive MVP will be this season.
Here’s the candidates by position.
Justin Worley — Senior
Josh Dobbs — Sophomore
Riley Ferguson — Redshirt Freshman
Line up any three Vol fans and ask them who they think should be the Vols’ starting quarterback in 2013 and you’ll likely get three different answers.
It’s nearly impossible to predict who will actually win the job. You can make cases for all three.
Justin Worley settled in as the Vols’ starter last season and was playing well before his injury. He nearly led the team to a win against Georgia and did led the Vols to a win against South Carolina, their first against a ranked opponent since 2009.
However, Worley’s arm was less than accurate at times. He routinely missed wide open receivers and the general consensus was that Worley’s ceiling was much lower than that of his freshmen counterparts.
Worley was an excellent game manager and made few mistakes, but did’t provide the offensive spark you hope to get from a quarterback.
The case for Josh Dobbs can be made because of the added dimension he brings with his legs. Dobbs was able to make plays that Worley wasn’t able to make. He actually made teams respect the quarterback keeper on the read-option, something that was an after-thought with Worley.
Dobbs looked his age at times last season, which is expected when you’re dealing with a true freshmen that didn’t go through spring practice. Other times he looked poised, especially against Alabama when he was thrown to the wolves in a game that was already a blowout.
Riley Ferguson, who redshirted last season, is the great unknown and probably who the average Vol fan most wants to see under center.
That’s expected though.
Ferguson has never made a mistake, he’s never thrown an interception and he’s never lost the Vols a game.
Of course he’s never seen the field either.
The backup quarterback always looks like the better option, but rarely is he actually the answer.
With that said, Ferguson could still end up being the Vols’ answer at quarterback. He’s got a great arm and has won at every level he’s played, but until he plays in a collegiate game it’s impossible to know how he’ll perform.
Practice and games are two different things — just ask Nathan Peterman.
Marlin Lane — Senior
Jalen Hurd — True Freshman
Marlin Lane will head into the 2014 season as the de facto starter and if wasn’t for a true freshman by the name of Jalen Hurd, he might be in line for a huge breakout season. Lane should still have a productive season, but he’s likely to be overshadowed by Hurd.
Lane, who missed some time in 2013, rushed for 552 yards on 101 attempts, good enough for 5.3 yards a carry. At times Lane looked like the best running back on the field, but he was never able to overtake senior Rajion Neal for the starting job.
In 2014 Lane will attempt to hold off Hurd, a highly touted early enrollee that dominated at the high school level. Hurd is considered the centerpiece of the 2014 class by many and he’ll be looking to prove how important he is early.
Lane will definitely get most of the carries early, allowing Hurd to be eased into the rotation at his own pace.
But I wouldn’t be shocked to see Hurd take over as the starting running back by the end of the season.
Marquez North — Sophomore
Von Pearson — Junior
Josh Malone — True Freshman
Pig Howard — Junior
Marquez North was the Vols’ leading receiver in 2013 with 496 yards on 38 receptions. He single-handily (literally) lifted the Vols to victory against South Carolina.
There were games last season where North looked like the only wide receiver interested in playing.
North will have some help in 2014 with newcomers Josh Malone and JuCo transfer Von Pearson, as well as returning slot man Pig Howard.
Pearson will line up across from North immediately. The four-star JuCo transfer is incredibly talented and has many folks thinking of Cordarrelle Patterson.
Malone, who is just as highly touted, will see the field early, but not as often as Pearson, but could end up being better in the long run. Pearson has more experience, so it only makes sense for him to line up as starter before Malone.
Both Pearson and Malone are early enrollees and will go through spring practice.
Vol fans shouldn’t forget about Pig Howard either.
Howard led the Vols in receptions in 2013 with 44. He had 338 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
With a year of experience in the books for Howard, he’ll be even more prepared to excel in Butch Jones’ offense, which places a huge emphasis on the slot receiver.
Howard will have North, Pearson, Lane and Hurd there to take some of the pressure off him, enabling him to fly under the radar a bit, making him a dark horse candidate for the Vols’ offensive MVP in 2013.