KNOXVILLE — The race is under way.
It's still probably too early to identify a favorite or pinpoint any separation.
For the first time since their December arrival, Tennessee's new coaching staff could watch quarterbacks Nathan Peterman and Justin Worley throw in person during the Volunteers' first spring practice on Saturday morning.
The competing duo's teammates have had more viewing opportunities.
"As far as I've noticed," receiver Jacob Carter said after Saturday's initial session, "both of them understand it's in their hands on whether they're going to start or not. It's however hard they work and not make as many mistakes, but both of them are working just as hard as the other one. It's very competitive among those two, which is good and will make us have a good quarterback."
The redshirt freshman Peterman is more familiar with new coach Butch Jones and offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian, who pursued him heavily while at Cincinnati two years ago. The 6-foot-2, 226-pounder ran a spread offense in high school similar in formations and terminology to the one Jones and Bajakian have used the past six seasons. From his details-oriented approach to his faith, Bajakian reminds Peterman of Darrell Sutherland, his coach at Bartram Trail High School in Jacksonville, Fla.
All of that didn't lower Peterman's nerves when he took first-team snaps Saturday.
"I think there's always those first-day jitters," he said after revealing he threw a first-play interception during the Vols' team period. "I think everybody's got them, but once you get out there you get rid of it and finally rip a ball here and there. You get into the motions again.
"I think as a quarterback, and as a competitor, too, when you make a mistake, that kind of sticks in your mind, but you can't let it stick in your mind. You've got to move on and go to the next play. In the field I'm going to the next play, but at the same time, after practice I know that I did that and I'm going to go watch film and correct it."
Jones walked off Haslam Field on Saturday knowing his quarterbacks have plenty of work to do.
"Everything in the throw game is rhythm and spacing and timing," he said. "This is the first time we've seen them throw the ball, so I liked a lot of things that they did, but we were late a little bit in our progressions, and obviously everything will be accelerated when the pads come on. They're students of the game, and the big thing is it's not where you start, it's where you finish.
"Practice one is a gauge, it's a barometer, it's where we're starting, and now is where we're going to find where each player improves individually. That's going to be key. I'll know a little bit more each and every time we step off the practice field when I'm able to evaluate the film from practice."
Regardless of the notion, Worley believes he's a fit for the spread offense. His high school program at Rock Hill (S.C.) Northwestern ran one, though it featured four- and five-receiver sets, quick throws and short routes. The intelligent 6-foot-4, 213-pounder started three games as a freshman in 2011 and attempted 23 passes in five games as Tyler Bray's backup last season.
"I wouldn't say there's a leg up, but definitely having the little bit of experience that I've gotten, it helps with my confidence a little bit," he said during Friday's pre-practice news conference.
"I don't think I'm a terrible runner. I'm not going to tell you I'm a dual-threat guy, either. There's an opportunity for us to run, but they game plan off their personnel and also off the defenses, so I'm not a whole lot worried about that, but we'll see as time progresses."
Though the third-string quarterback in 2012, Peterman saw an advantage to his redshirt year.
"I think Tyler and Justin last year, I went through a big learning process of watching them," he said. "To be honest, I'm so glad I came here because they've pushed me to become a better player and throw more accurate balls. I feel like I've gotten better because of the competition."
As he's done since taking the job, Bajakian emphasized he'll adapt his offense to his quarterback regardless of his running abilities.
"The reality of the position is first and foremost they need to be able to throw the football," he said Friday. "What we put on their plate in the pass game is the most important thing, so that's where we start. More than anything, they need to able to manage the offense like Coach Jones talked about, put the ball in the hands of the playmakers we've identified and complete the football.
"That's the bottom line. Their ability with the ball in their hands, that's secondary. We've been able to be successful with different quarterbacks of different abilities, but the reality is they've got to be able to throw the football around."
Jones stressed the importance of ball security on Saturday and talked about the "command presence" needed to run an offense, manage an up-tempo offense, understand situations and show poise in split-second decisions in the heat of the moment.
Peterman said he and Worley know the competition is "pretty wide open."
"They're going to play the guy that can win and give us the best chance to win," he said. "We're just trying to make sure that everything's the best for the team and whoever's going to be the starting guy, we're going to win some games. They've made a point that whoever gives us the best chance to win, that's who they're going to tailor the offense to."
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 ...