March 7, 2014
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Second year head coach Butch Jones took to the microphone Friday after the Volunteers first spring practice voicing several positives. Energy, enthusiasm and leadership were among the things mentioned but Jones also made a note of his matured and healthy quarterbacks.
Similar to 2013, there will be an open competition for who will be the Vols signal caller this season.
Tennessee returns three starting quarterbacks from last season in Justin Worley, Nathan Peterman and Joshua Dobbs. They also return redshirt freshmen Riley Ferguson who will compete for the job as well.
"It was great," said Jones of seeing four healthy quarterbacks throwing. "Never been through a year like we were last year with the injuries at that position, so again, competition is extremely healthy. You could see it- not just inner-positional competition but on both sides of the ball."
Worley, as senior, leads the group having started seven games last season. The sophomore, Dobbs, had four starts and Peterman had one in 2013. At this point it's too early to determine a front-runner, let alone a winner so the group is just focused on making each other better.
"Our goal as a position group and as a team is to come out every day and compete and make sure we're consistent in our performance," said Dobbs. "We're just working hard to continue to grow as a team. It's our second year in the offense so it's a great chance to build on where we left off last year."
However, the real mystery remains to be what Ferguson can do. After suffering an injury to his right leg he redshirted the year. Ferguson said the year of learning greatly helped.
"I look at it as a positive," Ferguson said. "We compete every day, that's what we do. We're quarterbacks, we're different than everybody else. We live at a higher standard than everybody else so we just push each other every day and that's the main thing we're focused on is just getting better every day as a quarterback and as a whole."
There will be no excuses this year for the young quarterbacks, Dobbs and Ferguson. With a year under their belts Jones said they should know what to do, how to practice and how to prepare. The key for success going forward?
"Continue to improve. Take care of the football," said Jones.
DEFENSIVE BACKS SPRING FORWARD
The Tennessee Volunteers took no time in the offseason to start getting better for the 2014 season and on Friday the Big Orange and its defensive backs hit the practice field for the first time as Team 118.
The excitement has been building on Rocky Top for the return of football season and junior defensive back LaDarrell McNeil has sensed it every day since November.
"We were really anxious," said McNeil. "You could feel it when we were just walking to classes, in the team room and in the position room. You could tell we were pretty anxious."
McNeil was not the only one excited to see what Team 118 would bring to Haslam Field on day one of spring practice though.
"They all caught my eye," McNeil said of the early enrollees' intensity.
It may just be the conclusion of practice one of 15 but the Dallas, Texas, native is eager to see what the spring holds.
"I think we're [defensive backs] going to be pretty special this season."
COLEMAN READY FOR ANYTHING
Vol senior defensive back, Justin Coleman, is ready to get back out on the field and make a difference in 2014. With last season in the past, Coleman is ready to move forward with Team 118.
"I don't really want to think about last year right now," said Coleman. "I'm just looking forward to this year."
Coleman is ready to step up into a leadership role for the team. He is even prepared to switch positions from corner to nickel to help out the team.
"I'm willing to play anywhere. If they put me at linebacker at 190 I would play there," said Coleman.
Coleman also believes that under Head Coach Butch Jones during the offseason the team was able to come closer together as players and coaches. Team 118 now knows the expectations of the Volunteer program and they are eager to compete.
POUND BY POUND
If one thing was evident when Joshua Dobbs and Riley Ferguson came off the field from the first spring practice of 2014, it was their appearance. In the offseason, both quarterbacks gained some weight- healthy weight that is.
"That's something that we challenged him [Joshua Dobbs] and he responded," head coach Butch Jones said. "He needed to add the extra weight. All of our quarterbacks did. I think Dave Lawson, Mike Szerszen, our strength and conditioning program did a great job of getting our players stronger."
As a quarterback in the Southeastern Conference, the leader of the offense often faces big and intimidating defenses and both Dobbs and Ferguson recognize the challenge needed to become a bigger presence on the field.
"I know SEC- there are some big boys out here, so I had to put on some weight," said Ferguson.
The Matthews, N.C., native entered his Tennessee career at 173 pounds and now weighs in at 198. Dobbs entered Friday's practice at 213 pounds.