KNOXVILLE — The spring-practice portion of Tennessee's quarterback competition is nearing its end, and Nathan Peterman is looking to make the most of the final week.
Only two practices remain before the Orange and White Game on Saturday, and the redshirt freshman is approaching it with a simple goal.
"I'm going to do everything I can to get better," Peterman said after Saturday's scrimmage. "I don't know if I can quantify that with a certain number -- a certain this many completions or something like that. But I'm just going to do my best this whole week."
Although Justin Worley has taken most of the first-team reps, it's difficult to point out much separation between him and Peterman. They will have a 15-practice head start on incoming freshmen Josh Dobbs and Riley Ferguson in learning offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian's system.
In addition to gauging the differences in the quarterbacks' skill sets, Bajakian and first-year Tennessee coach Butch Jones have had to identify how to coach Worley and Peterman and target areas where one may need more improvement than the other.
"They're very like-minded, those two guys," Bajakian said earlier this spring. "Cerebral in their approach, and there's not a huge need to coach them differently. Their mechanics have different things that need to be tweaked, what they see and what they process -- sure.
"Justin has a little more experience under his belt. He's been in the fire a little bit more, so right now the big things we've been focusing on with Nathan is vision and processing the information post-snap and things like that. As he gets more experience, we'll transition to new things."
Though Worley said after Tennessee's second scrimmage that the coaches' approach doesn't vary from player to player or position to position, Peterman has noticed a difference in what is taught.
"I don't think it's like a cookie-cutter approach," he said. "Coach Jake doesn't do that, but I do think every guy is different, so you've got to coach everyone different. I do certain things not as good as Justin, or vice versa.
"Everybody's got their little flaws that you've got to correct."
Both quarterbacks have had ups and downs this spring, and the injuries and struggles of the Vols' young wideouts must be taken into account when judging Worley's and Peterman's performances.
Though Peterman has an athletic advantage over Worley, the rising junior has shown an ability to be an effective runner and even ripped off a long gain during Saturday's scrimmage when he kept the ball on a zone-read play.
Jones likes to make his quarterbacks live for contact periodically in practice, though most of the time he's applied that condition to Peterman, who admitted after Saturday's scrimmage it's a little bit frustrating when his non-contact status limits how much he can demonstrate his running ability.
The 6-foot-2, 226-pounder from Jacksonville, Fla., relished the opportunity to meet and listen to former Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning when he spoke to the Vols last week.
"That was one of the greatest experiences of my life," Peterman said. "We didn't exactly get to sit down with him one on one like I'd hoped to, or maybe we'll get to do that in June, but our coaches sat down with him, so they gave us notes from what he said the night before. Then I took notes when he was talking to us in the team meeting.
"I think I had four pages of notes, and I really wasn't even done. Just the amount of knowledge he had, it was just an awesome opportunity, and I was happy to have that. It's great to come to Tennessee and get those kinds of opportunities."
Only a few opportunities remain this spring for Peterman and Worley to show Jones what he wants to see.
"It's being able to turn momentum and make a big play, extend plays [and] just overall command presence," Jones said after Saturday's scrimmage. "I see it, but I still need to see it more on a consistent basis. It has to become innate, it has to be habitual, it has to be engrained in them and it comes with reps, it comes with confidence and it comes with putting the time in.
"That's why again this week is going to be critical, and the spring game's going to be critical when we actually get bodies in the stands to see how they perform."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.
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 ...