Most everybody who cares about Tennessee's football program has an opinion about who Butch Jones should start at quarterback when the Vols host South Alabama this Saturday.
The vocal masses apparently includes members of true freshman quarterback Riley Ferguson's family.
A man claiming to be Ferguson's uncle, identified only as "Larry," called Knoxville's The Sports Animal's Doc, Jeff, & Heather radio show on Monday morning to offer his admittedly biased opinion on UT's quarterback derby.
Just to be honest, after seeing everything I’ve seen, I think both of the young quarterbacks are better than the two we’ve seen. I think when we see either one of those guys come in, I think we’re going to see a huge difference in the offense. I think we’ve got two great quarterbacks sitting in the wings. Obviously, I have my opinion about which one I’d like to see, but I’ve just not been impressed by the two we’ve seen so far.
I think if you were there at the open practice...out of the 39-plus thousand people, I would say 35,000 or more would say those young guys were more impressive than the older two. So, I’m looking forward to seeing that happen. I don’t know when that will be.
On Monday, Jones re-named Justin Worley his starter "as of right now" for the game against the Jaguars. Worley began the season as UT's starter before the competition was reopened and Nathan Peterman made his first career start at Florida, a move that backfired.
Now, with Peterman missing "at least four weeks" after having hand surgery Monday, according to Jones, the battle to back up Worley will be waged by Ferguson and classmate Joshua Dobbs.
Coaches of high-profile programs deal with fan opinions daily. Most of the time, those opinions are never considered or even acknowledged. They carry a bit more clout coming from players' family members, however.
Jones was asked during his press conference how he deals with public outcry from family members in regard to playing time.
You know, that’s something that I’ll address with (the players). We continue to educate our players and our families, and we’ve only been here for a short period of time, but, you know, let’s just say that’s part of our Vol For Life program, and that’s a work in progress, and I’ll handle that.
Jones smirked, paused, then looked at the reporter: "You always ask the difficult questions," he said with a smile.
Monday's call by Ferguson's family member probably wouldn't have registered on Jones' radar if it hadn't come on the heels of Ferguson's dad, Don, calling Tennessee Sports Radio's The Erik Ainge Show last week.
According to the transcription of the call on TSR's website, Don Ferguson didn't say anything controversial about the quarterback race. Instead, the elder Ferguson discussed his son's strengths, confidence level, weight and "it" factor, among other things.
When asked about the possibility of his son starting in The Swamp—a hope that didn't come to fruition—Don Ferguson said this:
Yeah, he’s ready to go. He keeps telling me every day he’s hoping by the fourth game, that’s what he’s been telling me, cause I guess that’s when Peyton (Manning) took over in his third or fourth game. He wants to play. How I look at it, it’s gonna be tough for any of the four this weekend with that defense they got.
I would hate for him or Dobbs or even Peterman to get in and just, you know, get destroyed and then of course the fanbase will just shred you, so it’s kind of unfair. And in Worley’s case, I think it’s unfair that he’s already a junior, never redshirted and people are already starting to talk beyond him as a junior.
It’s a tough thing. It’s a tough thing as a parent because you want your kid to get a chance. You don’t want him to get thrown to the wolves and the fanbase, you know just like anybody, would want to protect. That’s why I was a little bit reluctant to talk on the radio, cause all of these fan sites are just—they can be brutal. They either love you or hate you.
While Riley Ferguson's father's comments were benign, the alleged uncle's weren't. Now, the two instances together means Jones must address it internally before it becomes a potential distraction.
Moving forward, Ferguson hopes to be in the news for the right reasons this Saturday. Jones told the media that Ferguson being on last week's travel squad over Dobbs has no bearing on the battle to back up Worley:
Both freshmen quarterbacks will get ample amount of repetitions, and we have to do a great job of getting them ready to play mentally and then physically as well. Just like anything in our program, they’re going to have to earn their spot.
Much to the chagrin of their families.
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