Posted: 8:00 a.m. Friday, Aug. 23, 2013
By Will Shelton
We phrase the question this particular way because we're most uncertain of its answer. Someone will, in fact, play quarterback for Tennessee this fall. A starter is likely to be named the first of next week, and many expect it to be Justin Worley, the only one of the four candidates with any game experience. But will Worley hold the job all season? Will true freshmen Riley Ferguson and/or Josh Dobbs demand playing time as the season progresses? And will redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman, who has gotten more work with the twos in fall camp than either of the newcomers, make a play for some meaningful snaps as well?
We will have a quarterback. Might have two or three or all four by the time the year is done. But do we have the quarterback?
Tennessee's number one overall recruiting class for 2014 currently includes 24 commitments and zero quarterbacks. Carrying three freshmen on the 2013 roster, plus the junior Worley, suggests the Vols like their options, and they are plentiful. So the future promise of Tennessee's program could become reality with Peterman, Dobbs, or Ferguson at the helm at some point in the future.
In the present? You never can tell how long it's going to take a freshman to mature or even be ready for live SEC fire. We saw that two years ago when Worley was wearing those shoes: he was plenty good against Middle Tennessee (23 of 32 for 291 and a touchdown, no interceptions), but went just 10 of 26 for 105 and a pair of picks against South Carolina, failing to lead a touchdown drive in a winnable game the Vols lost 14-3. And at Arkansas he had the distinction of being the starter during Tennessee's worst beating in thirty years, going 15 of 29 for 208 and an interception in a 49-7 loss.
But don't write Worley off. He's been with the ones since spring practice, and as of yet no one has unseated him. One of the best pro-Worley arguments suggests he was a system quarterback in high school, where he re-wrote national records, and now that our offense is something more than, "Go deep, bro," he may have a chance to shine again.
(Also: get ready to take back, either publicly or internally, at least some of those things you said about Tyler Bray. The backup is not only the most popular guy on campus, but he also doesn't have Bray's laser-rocket arm. Granted, he'll also have a few things Bray didn't have...but this isn't going to be an even trade at the beginning.)
Peterman was recruited by Butch Jones at Cincinnati, which many believed would give him a leg up. Riley Ferguson chose the Vols over offers from Alabama, Clemson, LSU, and Michigan. Joshua Dobbs was a late flip from Arizona State, praised as an aeronautical engineering major, which, you know, can't hurt him on the football field.
Young receivers won't help any of these guys. But consistency at quarterback could help young receivers. What will help is a great offensive line and experienced tailbacks, so no one has to come in and be a hero here. But the defense isn't likely to provide a lot of help early either, and the schedule certainly will not.
I don't know who'll be playing quarterback if the Vols return to glory when the Class of 2014 matures. In the present, I also don't know what the best option for UT is. Will they take the Tyler Bray plan and hold one or both of the freshmen until later in the schedule, having Worley take the punishment against the brutal first half of the schedule? Or is Worley truly the best option and not just the most experienced one? And above all, who can lead? Who can minimize mistakes, run the offense, and help us more than he hurts us? Some of these guys may be heroes later. Right now, we just need someone to help us improve.
We'll probably see a number of these guys. But will one stand alone by the end of the year, or will we still be asking this question?