KNOXVILLE - Tennessee defensive end Jordan Williams felt his time had come.
With two other players at the position on the shelf, the junior made his move.
It's a push that may end in the 6-foot-5, 260-pounder from Gainesville, Fla., starting the Volunteers' season opener.
"I feel like this whole camp I've been working hard," Williams said following Thursday afternoon's practice. "Somebody needed to step up with Jacques [Smith] and a couple guys being hurt here and there. I feel like it was my time to step up."
Smith (thumb) and freshman Corey Vereen (knee) may miss at least part of the first month of the season, and Williams can help replace some of what the Vols will miss with what coaches believe are their two best pass rushers out of the lineup.
"Jordan's really explosive and comes off the ball hard," defensive end Corey Miller said. "He has quick feet. He knows exactly what he's doing at all times. He's been in the film. He's been working hard in the weight room. Jordan's come up a lot."
Tennessee needs its sack total to do the same. Williams rattled off the number of sacks the Vols recorded last season (17) without hesitation and said the coaches frequently remind them of that number. A five-game starter last season, he's one of only three returning players who recorded multiple sacks in 2012.
"Jordan Williams has given us an explosiveness off the edge," coach Butch Jones said. "He's playing with a relentlessness we expect and demand from our defensive front. He's performing extremely well right now.
"Everyone wants to talk about the secondary, but you win up front. You have to impact the quarterback with ball disruptions and pass rush and hits on the quarterback. That's going to be critical."
Tennessee is the only SEC team yet to settle on a starting quarterback, but the competition among Justin Worley, Nathan Peterman, Riley Ferguson and Josh Dobbs will reach its end Monday, when Jones plans to name the starter at his weekly noon news conference.
"I want to have the opportunity to really watch the film and watch all four individuals' body of work throughout the course of training camp," he explained. "I want to be able to sit down with each individual and them hear it from me of where we're going. It's going to be how all four individuals progress throughout the season.
"It's a long season, but right now [it's] which individual do we feel gives us the best opportunity to beat Austin Peay."
The Vols probably would prefer to see more than just the starter get snaps in the opener, but Jones said he wants to settle on one starter, so there are no plans for any in-game rotations. The coach stressed that the competition doesn't end with a starter chosen. He pointed to last year, when he decided to switch quarterbacks when Cincinnati was 6-2.
The practice reps, though, will change with the pecking order set.
"It's a giant question, a wonder, but at the end of the day I don't think it matters," tailback Rajion Neal said. "I feel that everybody believes in the quarterbacks we have here, and whoever steps foot on the field, we're going to give them all we've got. From Worley, Nate, Dobbs, Ferguson -- in no type of order -- all those guys have come out and made plays and showed something that's pretty exciting and giving everybody something to look forward to whenever whoever touches the field."
Worley has had most of the first-team repetitions this preseason, though no quarterback has done enough to create the kind of separation that would prompt the coaching staff to name a starter.
"We've got reps with every quarterback that we have," center James Stone said, "so we're pretty comfortable blocking for whoever's back there."
Mock it up
The Vols will have a mock game this afternoon before taking the weekend off from practice, and Jones said it will include "every imaginable scenario," including simulated injuries to certain players, the halftime routine, pregame warmups and various game-management situations.
"The mock game is anything and everything that could occur throughout the course of a football game and the course of a football season," he added. "We don't assume anything."
Said Stone: "I know on offense, we're still trying to focus on our tempo. We don't want to go too slow. We want to focus on our tempo, getting lined up and executing the different scenarios that we'll go through. It's a really heavy mental prep day."