KNOXVILLE – Justin Worley admits he was timid last year.
Worley says he now is comfortable in the role of Tennessee's quarterback.
Time will tell what difference that makes.
Vols coach Butch Jones did the expected on Thursday, naming Worley UT's starting quarterback after two weeks of training camp.
"Justin Worley gives this football team and this football program the best opportunity to win at this point in time," he said.
For Jones, it was the safe call. With a total makeover of UT's offensive line and with so much youth at so many positions, going with a senior quarterback who has started 10 college games made sense.
Perhaps it is more telling that neither Nathan Peterman nor Josh Dobbs could pull ahead of Worley on the depth chart. For all the great recruiting Jones has done at other positions, he simply has not been able to recruit over a quarterback who has some obvious limitations.
After talking to Peterman and Dobbs on Thursday, it's clear they saw it coming. Peterman said Worley is "really delivering the ball very accurately and making good decisions," and Dobbs said Worley "definitely took some steps forward this summer in terms of managing the offense."
"I think the coaches know what they're doing," Peterman said.
Worley's three-year body of work is lacking. He has never really asserted himself at a spot Jones describes as "a global position" that "comes with a lot of standards and expectations."
In an offense that often is triggered with a zone-read decision by the quarterback, he is a reluctant, ineffective runner. He is a 56.2 percent career passer who has thrown more interceptions (13) than touchdowns (11).
But different players develop at different paces, and Jones and his staff think Worley is up to the challenge. In particular, they believe his leadership skills have taken a leap in recent months.
"He has stepped up as a leader since the end of last season," said Mike Bajakian, UT's offensive coordinator. "His teammates respect hm. He's more vocal. We talk about owning and commanding the line of scrimmage and he's done that. … He's asserted himself as a leader."
If so, that's quite a difference. One of the criticisms of Worley last season was that he did not command the huddle and left the leadership role to others. He admits that was sometimes the case, saying there were "some senior offensive linemen that sort of had control of the offense."
"I was a little timid last year," he said. "I'll tell you that. I think coach Jones will tell you that, too. I didn't really take things and run with it."
During the offseason, Jones and Bajakian pushed him to become more assertive. Although Worley might not have a take-charge personality, Bajakian believes leadership skills can be coached.
"Some people are more inclined toward leadership than others, but it is a skill and like any other skill we can practice those," he said. "As you work on it more, it becomes easier and easier and you get better and better."
In many ways, Worley is a survivor. He started three games as a freshman in 2011 when Tyler Bray was injured. He got mop-up duty in five games as a sophomore. He was named the starter a week before the season-opener last year but lost the spot to Peterman in the Florida game.