published Sunday, April 6th, 2014

Riley Ferguson recovers after early interception

KNOXVILLE — Riley Ferguson's first pass during 11-on-11 work in Tennessee's spring football scrimmage Saturday ended in disaster.

The redshirt freshman threw a dart into the flat and hit Jalen Reeves-Maybin right in the No. 34 of the linebacker's jersey.

After that, though, Ferguson played well, but coach Butch Jones lamented the ongoing inconsistencies of the Volunteers' four quarterbacks.

"I'm pretty proud of the way I came back," Ferguson said following the nearly three-hour practice at Neyland Stadium. "I'm just trying to overcome those and just not worry about them and move forward. Once it happens, you can't do anything about it then, because it's in the past. I just tried to move forward and have a good rest of the practice."

Ferguson admitted he never saw Reeves-Maybin buzz underneath receiver Marquez North's comeback route, and his two red-zone series ended in a fourth-down incompletion and a short field goal, though both were forced by pressure from Tennessee's defensive line.

On his last three series, Ferguson helped the Vols get into range for George Bullock to kick a 45-yard field goal, hit Josh Smith over the top for a long touchdown pass and scrambled for a first down on third-and-long on a series that ended in freshman tailback Jalen Hurd's fumble near the goal line.

In goal-line work, Ferguson hit freshman tight end Ethan Wolf on a play-action pass and threw a back-shoulder touchdown to Von Pearson on his two turns.

"I knew I had the rest of the day," Ferguson said. "I couldn't let that one play affect me. I just had to move forward.

"Every quarterback's trying to take care of the football, but interceptions are going to happen, and you just have to not let those affect you and move forward in the game or in practice or whatever it is."

At the end of the scrimmage, though, Ferguson again showed his inexperience. In a "last play of the game" scenario, Ferguson simply ran out of bounds after he was flushed from the pocket, and that prompted a brief lecture from Jones.

"That is invaluable," the coach said. "That's why we practice every situation that can occur throughout the course of a football season. Those end-of-the-game plays, the quarterback needs to know if the pocket collapses, you've got to scramble and you've got to make a play and you've got to throw the ball to give us an opportunity to make a play."

Quarterback chatter

Ferguson and rising senior Justin Worley appeared to get more work than rising sophomores Josh Dobbs and Nathan Peterman, but none of the quartet stood head and shoulders above another in the Vols' ongoing competition.

"We had some of our big explosive plays that we've had all spring, and those are great to have," Worley said, "but we didn't really maintain drives very well and had some penalties that brought us back.

"I think we just have to work on ball location and going through the right reads and getting our protections right."

Worley hit North for a long gain early in the scrimmage, hit Pearson for a touchdown in red-zone work and found Cody Blanc for another score, Blanc making an acrobatic grab with freshman cornerback D'Andre Payne in good coverage.

Peterman hooked up with Blanc for the offense's first big play of the day and hit Smith for a score in goal-line work, and Dobbs commanded a scoring drive on which he hit Wolf for a nice gain and ran it in on a keeper.

"We need an individual who can improvise and make plays but take care of the football and play with a high level of consistency," Jones said. "I thought there were too many ups and downs from the entire practice. ... We'll go back and we'll evaluate it.

"Nathan Peterman hung in the pocket a number of times and delivered some passes as well. Josh Dobbs did some things. All four did some good things, but there's also a lot of things that need to be corrected in a hurry."

Drops of doom

The end of the scrimmage, in which Jones had the Vols go through some "last play of the game" scenarios, was marred by dropped passes.

Five-star freshman Josh Malone and Pearson each dropped a potential touchdown throw, and North, who earlier failed to come up with a fourth-down slant after using his big frame to seal his defender, also dropped a pass, prompting Jones to bark that his wideouts had "been reading too much, getting too much love!"

"We had some ups and downs, but we're going to improve," receiver Jason Croom said. "We're never letting nothing like this hold us back. We just look for ways to get better."

Said Jones: "We're going to continue to challenge them because they're talented, but they're still exceptionally young.

"We cannot drop the football in our offense," he added. "That's a very talented group, and we'll get it right. Coach [Zach] Azzanni's the best wide receiver coach in the country, and he'll get it right."

Tennessee tidbits

Cornerback Cam Sutton returned a punt more than 70 yards for a touchdown, and Jones said he's "really battling" to win that job. ... Devrin Young showed some good burst on a couple of screen passes out of the backfield and sprinted around the corner for a 12-yard touchdown in red-zone work. Jones said the rising senior from Knoxville has had a "very productive" spring. "He's going to make the first defender miss," he added, "and I've liked his workmanlike approach." ... Pearson flew down the field untouched for a 43-yard score on a jet sweep, but the play was wiped out by a holding penalty. ... Receiver Jacob Carter sat out the scrimmage with a walking boot on his right foot, and redshirt freshman offensive lineman Austin Sanders, a former Bradley Central High School standout, also is out with an injury. Safeties Geraldo Orta and Devaun Swafford also didn't scrimmage. ... Bullock missed a 45-yarder wide right and clanked a short kick off the upright before hitting a 45-yarder.

about Patrick Brown...

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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