KNOXVILLE - Tennessee's quarterback race took an unexpected twist on the eve of the start of summer workouts Tuesday.
Redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson is not expected to stay with the Volunteers' program, second-year coach Butch Jones told multiple media outlets while at the Southeastern Conference's annual spring meetings in Destin, Fla.
"As of right now, based on our recent conversations, we do not anticipate that he will be a member of our football family moving forward," Jones told the Knoxville New Sentinel. VolQuest.com first reported the news.
Neither Jones nor Ferguson returned calls from the Times Free Press.
The 6-foot-3, 181-pound Ferguson emerged along with senior Justin Worley as the top contenders for Tennessee's starting job during spring practice, and he likely would have stepped in for the injured Worley last October at Alabama if not for a broken tibia suffered in practice.
The Charlotte native, who could elect to transfer closer to home, was 7-of-12 passing for 83 yards, threw one interception and was sacked three times in the Vols' Orange and White Game in April. His departure would leave Tennessee with three scholarship quarterbacks on the roster: Worley and sophomores Josh Dobbs and Nathan Peterman.
Worley was 11-of-13 for 151 yards and one touchdown with a 49-yard run, while Dobbs accounted for 258 yards of offense and four total touchdowns in the spring game.
Ferguson committed to Tennessee the summer before the 2012 season while Derek Dooley was still coaching the Vols, and Jones and his staff flipped Dobbs from Arizona State on signing day last year.
"They told me they were going to bring in another quarterback, [but] they really didn't tell me much about recruiting another top quarterback like that," Ferguson told the Times Free Press last May. "It's whatever. They have to get the best competition and best people at that school so they can do their jobs and win football games.
"I'm going to go there and compete with him and do whatever it takes to show them I can do everything in the offense and I can help our team win some games."
Throughout practices since his arrival, Ferguson has shown he has the strongest arm among the quartet, but he struggled with interceptions some this spring as his inexperience showed.
Worley and Dobbs recently traveled to California to train under renowned quarterback guru George Whitfield, who has worked with the likes of Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Johnny Manziel, Aaron Murray and more.
After signing Dobbs and Ferguson and 2013, Tennessee failed to land any of its top quarterback targets in the 2014 class and didn't sign one at the position. The Vols' top target for the 2015 class is Torrance Gibson, who is rated as a five-star player according to 247Sports.com.
The 6-4, 200-pound dual-threat quarterback from American Heritage High School in Plantation, Fla., recently put the Vols atop his list of 15 finalists, a group that includes Auburn, LSU and Ohio State.
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.