Climer: Vols require a QB with running skill

It's not Justin Worley's fault.

He signed on at Tennessee in 2011 to quarterback a pro-style system. He practiced in that offense for two years and even started three games as a freshman.

Then Butch Jones arrived and the game changed.

Three games into his first season as UT coach, Jones has declared the quarterback position again open to competition. What's past is prologue. Staying the course at quarterback after the 59-14 debacle at Oregon is suicidal entering SEC competition. And Jones knows it.

"Whatever quarterback has the best week of practice is going to be the starter for Tennessee when we play Florida," Jones said.

He didn't say Worley is out, but he didn't have to. By indicating the UT offense will include more running opportunities for the quarterback, Jones essentially is telling redshirt freshmen Nathan Peterman and true freshmen Riley Ferguson and Josh Dobbs that one of them is taking over.

It was only a matter of time. While Jones' system incorporates some elements of a pro-style attack, it requires a level of mobility by the quarterback. Worley is a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. The Vols must move forward.

"We just need to find ways to generate big, explosive plays," Jones said. "If that's Josh Dobbs running the read option or Riley Ferguson, that's what we'll do. But we have to create big plays and that's going to be a focus of preparation this week."

In three games this season, Worley has proven to be a reluctant runner -- at best. Even when the zone-read quarterback keeper is there, his first inclination is to hand off the ball. Jones wants him to make the proper read and keep it when appropriate even if he's not going to break a long run.

"He may not be a home run hitter where he is going to get you 50 or 60 yards," Jones said. "But if he is going to get you four yards, four yards in our book is an efficient run. Four plus four plus four is 12, which is a first down.

"We are just looking for our quarterbacks to just be efficient enough in the run."

You could see this coming. Worley had the inside track at the No. 1 quarterback position last spring but failed to secure it. The competition continued in preseason practice before Jones finally named him the starter.

The fact that it took Worley so long to win the job told us that he was only marginally ahead of the competition. He played OK in wins over Austin Peay and Western Kentucky but struggled badly against Oregon.

He wasn't alone. Everybody struggled against the Ducks. But it's clear the Vols need more production out of their quarterback, whoever it might be.

Neither Dobbs nor Ferguson has played a snap to this point. Peterman has played in a backup role. Assuming Jones doesn't back-track on Worley, a first-time starter will hit the field at The Swamp.

That tells you where the UT program is at this point in time. I remember when then-coach Phillip Fulmer wouldn't start freshman Jamal Lewis at tailback against Florida because he was concerned about blitz pick-ups. Now Jones is likely to start a freshman quarterback at The Swamp.

One topic of conversation among Vols fans is the concern about who might transfer as the quarterback pecking order is restructured. The rationale: If Jones elevates one of the true freshmen quarterbacks over the other, the one that falls behind on the depth chart might start looking elsewhere. The same goes for Peterman.

It often happens. In the 10 recruiting classes prior to this one, UT signed 11 quarterbacks. Five of them transferred for one reason or another.

But Jones can't worry about keeping everybody happy. Desperate times call for desperate measures. With games against Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama on the horizon, Jones knows the Vols' quarterback play must be upgraded.

While it isn't the ideal venue to break in a new quarterback, the Vols have no choice. Youth must be served.


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