This is Justin Worley's last chance to make something of a mediocre career.
For the second consecutive season, head coach Butch Jones named the senior signal-caller as the Volunteers' starting quarterback, according to GoVols247's Wes Rucker. Jones made the less-than-surprising announcement Thursday at the annual preseason media day press conference.
If Worley doesn't find a way to build on the momentum he created in games against Georgia and South Carolina in 2013 before his season ended prematurely in a loss to Alabama, he never will.
With talent around him, in his second year in the offensive system and with more uncertainty surrounding candidates Nathan Peterman and Joshua Dobbs than him, Worley was the only choice—even if he isn't an exciting choice.
Even Jones' decision announcement Thursday seemed reluctant.
"Right now, Justin Worley gives this football team and this football program the best opportunity to win," Jones told the media.
Right now implies a current state that could change. Right now is far from final. Right now—at least on its surface—seems shaky, at best, and why shouldn't it?
There is a ton riding on Worley's 6'4", 220-pound frame, and there's also a lack of historical evidence that he will run with the job. That's a scary proposition for the Vols, whose season rides on him being able to orchestrate the offense much better than he did in 2013.
A season ago, as the hands-down favorite to win the job, he was named less than a week before the season opener. Three games into the season, Worley lost that job to Peterman, who handed it right back.
Worley's year ended after he had completed 55.6 percent of his passes for 1,239 yards, 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
|Justin Worley's Game-By-Game Stats from 2013|
Once healthy again this spring, Worley couldn't separate himself from Dobbs, Peterman or former UT quarterback Riley Ferguson. The inconsistency shadowed him into the first week-plus of fall practice.
But the past few days, Worley has reportedly played much better. His passes are crisper, and Rucker told Bleacher Report that the senior carries himself with a presence around practice and media opportunities like he is "The Man."
So, when Jones told the media Thursday, according to The Associated Press, via Dan Climer of USA Today, "I believe Justin is playing the best football that he's played in a long time," it holds much more water.
Perhaps that swagger Worley carries with him now is the element Jones had been needing to see. After all, he told Rucker (subscription required) back in late July that he'd name a starter "as soon as one person steps up and takes control of the offense and takes command of the program."
Command has been a struggle for Worley, even on the field. Last year, he grappled to grasp the tempo and timing of UT's transition offense, and the unit was constantly disjointed.
He looked like a different quarterback during the Orange and White Game, directing his receivers around with confidence and even throwing them open while methodically leading drives. Though he'll never be flashy, he distributed the ball to playmakers confidently.
Through an array of game-like situations thrown at the three quarterbacks in camp, Worley responded better than anybody else. That's an encouraging sign for a position that has been shaky for years in Knoxville.
A year ago, the Vols' quarterbacks had the world on their shoulders with the lack of a game-breaking ground attack and no other dynamic receivers to take the load off true freshman Marquez North.
This year, with all of Tennessee's new (albeit young) talent surrounding him, there are no excuses. Worley has the players in place to excel. He's in his final season on Rocky Top with a clear grasp of the playbook, and Jones' decision just announced to Worley and the world that this is his team to direct.
He will dictate the length of the leash.
All recruiting rankings and statistics courtesy of 247Sports Composite. All statistics gathered from CFBStats.com. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted, and observations from spring were witnessed firsthand.
Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter here: