KNOXVILLE — The start Tennessee's quarterback trio has had to preseason practice is causing some unrest.
Mike Bajakian, the Volunteers' offensive coordinator, is staying above the fray, though.
Second-year head coach Butch Jones was blunt in assessing his quarterbacks' struggles following Thursday's practices, and though Justin Worley, Josh Dobbs and Nathan Peterman had a better day Friday, Bajakian still declined to deny his disappointment.
"You're always looking to improve, and you're always looking to get better," he said. "Not having that consistency, yeah, I'd say that's disappointing.
"By no means am I panicking. They're good players. We've got a bunch of good players in my meeting room, and they work hard and they've got the right mentality. It's just a matter of coming out and performing day in and day out."
Accuracy and inefficiency have been the terms linked to Tennessee's quarterback play, and tonight's scrimmage will be a big measuring stick for the competition. Senior Worley most likely will be the Vols' quarterback in the opener against Utah State in 22 days, but he's not separated himself from the other two.
When the team heads to Neyland Stadium tonight, Bajakian is looking for improved consistency and wants to see the Vols "play pitch and catch," his term for the easy completions.
"We came out today and a had a good day, but again, that's, if nothing else, an illustration of the consistency that we need," he said. "It's not good enough to have a subpar day yesterday and to come out today and have a great day. We need to perform at a high level day in and day out if we're going to be a great quarterback group."
Regardless of who ultimately wins Tennessee's quarterback job, the position collectively needs to make significant improvement in the coming weeks.
"There's so many factors that go into and result in that inconsistency," Bajakian said. "I can't say I'm surprised. You're always going to shake off a little bit of rust at the beginning of training camp.
"You can work out all summer long and throw all summer long, but when you start getting people in your face with a pass rush, people in the receivers' faces with press techniques and things like that, it's going to throw off timing. I can't say I'm surprised, but we need to adapt more quickly."
During one period of practice Thursday, the Vols had eight true freshmen working with the second-team defense.
Tennessee continues to shuffle newcomers through its various defensive packages, and defensive coordinator John Jancek is hoping to see effort first, then execution from both younger and older players under Neyland's lights tonight.
"That'll be a big indicator of where we and how we can progress with this young group," he explained, "and if they can grasp some the concepts and do it against our offense in a competitive situation, that would be a really, really good sign.
"If they're struggling, we're going to have to make some adjustments and curtail their learning curve and maybe pull back on a few things. We've thrown a lot at the defensive players. It's been full speed ahead. It's a lot, especially for freshmen. You find out a lot about kids."
Jancek and Tennessee's other defensive coaches benefited from a new NCAA rule that allowed them meeting-room time with their players this summer, and that's helped with the early installation pace this month, though Jancek has his own preferred operating style.
"For me," he said, "it's just give it all to them, or as much as you can, then just keep repeating it, repeating it, take a break and don't install for a couple days and see how it sinks in."
From his size to his running style, it's sometimes easy to forget tailback Jalen Hurd is still an 18-year-old freshman.
That's not so much the case to Robert Gillespie, though.
"He's still goofy, clumsy and makes mistakes," Tennessee's running backs coach said. "I have to remind him where he has to be. He's not Superman. He's an 18-year-old kid just like anybody else, so he still makes mistakes.
"As a staff we've talked, and we're going to have to live with some of the mistakes that he's going to make out there. His learning curve is obviously going to have to come fast, but he's going to learn in front of 100,000 people."
Gillespie echoed Jones's comments from earlier this month regarding Hurd's humility in an increasing spotlight. The former five-star recruit is starting his career with considerable hype and expectations.
While Gillespie riding him and Tennessee's veterans "keeping him in his place" help keep Hurd grounded, the 6-foot-3, 227-pounder is humble, plenty motivated and wants "to prove a lot of people wrong," according to Gillespie.
"I don't want him to be anything but Jalen," he added. "There's no pressure on him to come in and be something or be what the media says he should be or whatever star ranking that he was. He's just going to be Jalen Hurd."
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 ...