Butch Jones praises QB Justin Worley

Butch Jones praises QB Justin Worley

March 17th, 2013 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley passes the ball during spring NCAA college football practice at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn. on Saturday, March 16, 2013.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE - The backdrop may have been bigger, and the audience may have been larger.

To Tennessee quarterbacks Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman, though, Saturday's scrimmage on a windy afternoon inside Neyland Stadium was just another practice and another chance to improve.

It required the same level of focus and energy as any day.

"You definitely have to be on your 'A' game day in and day out, especially with Nathan," Worley said. "Both of us are trying our hardest. We're giving it all we have to win this spot, and we've got to come out and show it.

"I think right now they're trying to give us equal reps no matter whether it's one-on-one passes or team periods. They're trying to balance everything out to see what we can do."

Both quarterbacks took snaps with the first-team offense Saturday. The Volunteers' passing game began with sluggish showings during a sudden-change period and one-on-one drills between the receivers and secondary. During a red-zone period, Worley misfired on a pass to Pig Howard in the end zone, while Peterman completed a scoring pass to Devrin Young.

Once the team period at the end of practice began, Worley found his rhythm.

On separate drives, the rising junior completed two third-down passes to Cody Blanc and one other conversion to freshman early enrollee Paul Harris.

"I thought he started to get into a rhythm," Vols coach Butch Jones said. "I thought Jacob Carter made some big catches at the end of the scrimmage. I liked what I saw in terms of Justin.

"He continues to really manage the game. The big thing, though, is just the overall leadership. If we're in the wrong formation, that command presence that we talk about, I can see him getting better by each practice."

Peterman had a long run after keeping on a zone-read option play and threw a short pass Howard turned into a long gain, but he botched a handoff with redshirt freshman Alden Hill that cornerback Riyahd Jones scooped and returned for a touchdown and had a pass he was trying to throw away tipped at the line and intercepted.

"They're doing way better since day one," Howard said. "We've got a connection, all the receivers. We're getting better each and every day with the routes and play-calling."

Worley said he and Peterman have taken advantage of their opportunities through four practices.

"Getting reps within the system will help in your understanding in the offense," he said, "so I feel like both me and Nathan, and all the quarterbacks, we've all gotten better as we've gotten more reps."

Coach's concern

Tennessee's defense spent a lot of the modified scrimmage with its back near the goal line, and Jones, who one at point gathered the Vols' front seven around him to send a message before a snap inside the 5-yard line, said he wants to see more from that group.

"I'm more concerned right now about our defensive front," he said. "Our defensive front has to step up. We need leadership.

"They have to learn how to play through fatigue right now. Body language -- we have too many hands on our hips, too many elbows on the knees, and that's something that we'll continue to work to get corrected. It's all a mentality by which we're going to take the field each and every day."

Pig's place

Howard, the 5-foot-8, 185-pound rising sophomore, showed his ability when he caught a short out route, darted upfield around an impressive block from Blanc and sped down the field for a big gain.

Based on four practices, Tennessee's receiving corps is very much a work in progress in a number of areas, and Howard is one of three players who previously have caught a pass in a game.

As a freshman, he ran a package as a wildcat quarterback and could have a role out of the backfield, but such decisions about his role likely won't be made until later.

"Coach Butch has asked if I've played running back before, which I have in high school," Howard said. "I don't know if they plan on moving me around there, but at the end of the day, I know the slot is my role. We've got a lot of people that do need to step up, but like I said, we're getting better each and every day."

Family day

Tennessee hosted a large combination of players' family members, 2013 signees and their families and prospects on unofficial visits for the program's family day. Images from game days, slogans and info graphics scrolled though on the video board during practice. The current team and signees and their families gathered at midfield for a picture after the scrimmage.

"I'm encouraged by what I see, but I'm not anywhere satisfied in our content with where we're at," Jones said, summing up his evaluation of his first week of practice as Tennessee's coach. "We have a long way to go, but it's day like this ... there's over 600 people here today, our football family coming together.

"That's special. ... We have to get Tennessee back to the standard and the expectations that are associated with this football program, and that's ongoing and that's work in progress. We have a long way to go, but anything that's worth building that's going to be around for a long time, it takes time, and I think our program has a lot of momentum right now."

Jones landed his sixth commitment for the 2014 class -- and fifth of the week -- on Friday. Alpharetta (Ga.) Milton High School tailback Treyvon Paulk, a 5-foot-9, 195-pounder with offers from Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Louisville and others, made his verbal pledge.

Extra points

Alex Bullard has worked with the first-team offensive line at left guard, the spot vacated by the graduated Dallas Thomas. ... With Tiny Richardson limited this spring, Marques Pair has handled most of the first-team plays at left tackle. The 6-5, 331-pound fourth-year junior from South Carolina has just one appearance in his Tennessee career, against Jones and Cincinnati in 2011. ... Safety Brian Randolph (knee) and tight end Justin Meredith (leg) didn't practice.