Butch Jones kicks off his second year on Rocky Top as the head coach of Tennessee on Friday, as the Vols open spring camp.
What's at the top of Jones' to-do list? Quarterback, of course.
Senior Justin Worley, sophomore Joshua Dobbs, sophomore Nathan Peterman and freshman Riley Ferguson all enter spring camp with a shot to impress the coaching staff and take the lead heading into fall camp.
"Every rep is a valuable rep," Jones told reporters on Thursday. "You don't know how many reps you are going to get so you better make sure you make the most of every single rep. Every rep is for a championship. Each rep is for the becoming the starting quarterback."
|Tennessee 2013 QB Stats|
Worley is the veteran.
The 6'4", 224-pound rising senior entered last season as the starter and tossed five touchdowns and only one interception in the first three games of the season. He was then inexplicably pulled for redshirt freshman Peterman prior to the road game at Florida and threw five picks over the next three games.
He came back strong to toss two touchdowns and zero picks over the next two games—an overtime loss to Georgia and upset win over South Carolina—before a thumb injury versus Alabama ended his season.
Worley is a veteran presence who may not have tremendous upside like some of the other contenders, but is reliable enough to get Tennessee back to its first bowl game since 2010.
Dobbs came in as the starter in the final month of the season and played like, well, a true freshman. He had some moments of brilliance, including a 240-yard performance against Missouri when everyone in the building knew Tennessee had to throw.
Two touchdowns and six picks won't cut it, though, and if Dobbs wants to win the job as a sophomore, he needs to prove that he learned from those mistakes this spring.
Peterman got the start at Florida, but his head was clearly spinning against the physical and—at the time—healthy Gator defense. He completed just four of 11 passes for five yards, tossed two picks and injured his hand against the Gators, ending his season shortly after it got started.
Ferguson is the wild card. As a redshirt backup who's never played, he's predictably the most popular player on campus right now.
When will the race be narrowed down? There's no timetable yet.
"There are no timetables," Jones said at a media session on Thursday. "That person will emerge. I don't know if it is the second week of spring, after the conclusion of the orange and white game or a week prior to Utah State. That will take care of itself."
Jones let the same four-man battle bleed into the final week of fall camp last season before Worley was named the starter. That can't happen this season. Worley struggled on intermediate routes in September and clearly lacked confidence in himself.
Jones doesn't have to name a starter this spring, but the race needs to be narrowed down to two candidates. It's impossible for quarterbacks to progress with the first team during fall camp if they're splitting reps with three other players.
While the battle will "take care of itself," Jones would be best-served to take care of the semifinals himself following spring practice.
It's a big year for Tennessee. With the talent flowing to Knoxville and the relative uncertainty at the quarterback position in the SEC East, it will be vital for the Vols to get their eventual No. 1 first-team reps as soon as possible.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All statistics are courtesy of CFBStats.com.
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