KNOXVILLE — The University of Tennessee's best-case scenario for the 2012 football season most likely doesn't include much of Justin Worley.
The Volunteers' backup quarterback is making sure he's ready anyway.
Worley has built on the experience he got last season when the coaches turned to him for three games after Tyler Bray was injured. The 6-foot-5, 213-pound sophomore's development was evident in his play and feel for the offense during training camp. That's probably the biggest difference in the calm South Carolina native.
"My development at that time probably wasn't as good as I wanted it to be and the coaches wanted it to be," Worley said of his emergency insertion into the starting role. "But the situation happened and I had to go play. I think I was prepared enough to go out there and play.
"I think I've developed a lot more than I had from last spring to that season. I think I understand the offense more, I've matured more and I think Coach [Jim] Chaney's done a great job this past spring and summer of really helping understand 'If we've [got this coverage], this is where you're going with the ball.' It's been a combination of things, but my development has continued to progress."
Headed for a certain redshirt at one point, Worley replaced the ineffective Matt Simms against South Carolina, Middle Tennessee State and Arkansas. Despite some good moments, his mistakes were costly. Red-zone interceptions cost Tennessee in an 11-point loss to the Gamecocks, and another pickoff at the goal line just before halftime at Arkansas kept the Vols' deficit at 14 in that eventual blowout.
He looked like a freshman quarterback playing for the first time then, but now the difference in Worley is "significant," according to coach Derek Dooley.
"He understands the offense," Dooley said. "I think we as coaches have a good feel for what he can do and what his strengths are, and I think that's a part of it. I think the players all around him have a real comfort level of his ability.
"I know this: You play better as a sophomore when you played as a freshman even if you stunk as a freshman. Your development as a player improves when you play as a freshman for a lot of reasons. One is you're learning what it means to prepare each week; two is you're developing your position skills; and three, more than anything, you realize, 'Holy smokes, I'm not very good and I've got to go to work,' so it helps you all offseason."
It's paid off during preseason practice, too. Worley completed nine of his 15 passes for 134 yards and two scores in Tennessee's first camp scrimmage. After replacing Bray when the Vols faked an injury to their starter, Worley was 15-of-28 passing for 229 yards and two scores in extensive work with the starting offense.
"I understand the offense more," he said. "Coming in from playing in a spread offense in high school to a pro-style offense and a college offense at that, just mentally it's hard to come in your freshman year and grasp it all. That development as well is something that I try to focus on."
With Worley's development and 6-foot-2, 226-pound freshman Nathan Peterman's natural physical tools, offensive coordinator Chaney likes what he has behind Bray. Yet the Vols' present is in Bray's hands, though the junior has yet to complete a full season.
Should Tennessee suffer the worst of all possible bad breaks again this season, Worley believes he's better prepared now.
"I think he's playing with a lot of confidence right now," Chaney said. "I was real pleased with how he went out and scrimmaged. I'm excited about him. I think that he's real confident in his own skin right now and who he is as a quarterback.
"He's completely different than Tyler Bray, and Peterman's different than those two. So many times it happens with the No. 2 quarterback, he tries to emulate the quarterback in front of him sometimes, and I think Justin's finally, 'Hey, I'm going to be me,' and he's doing a wonderful job of that. Him being him is pretty [darn] good."
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...
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