Jones sees 'marked improvement' from UT Vols' QBs in scrimmage

Jones sees 'marked improvement' from UT Vols' QBs in scrimmage

August 10th, 2014 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE - It was the first question Butch Jones faced after Tennessee's closed scrimmage inside Neyland Stadium on Saturday night.

Earlier in the week, the Volunteers' second-year coach had challenged his three quarterbacks to improve their efficiency and consistency, and Jones said he saw "marked improvement" from the position during the first scrimmage of the preseason.

"I still need more control or command of the line of scrimmage, but I saw them manage the offense," Jones said. "We made some routine throws, and that's the big thing, is just consistency in performance. Manage the offense, make the routine plays and keep plays alive, and I thought all three quarterbacks made some strides tonight."

Tennessee did not provide any statistics from the scrimmage, and concrete details weren't easy to obtain, but Jones specifically mentioned Justin Worley, the senior and likely starter for the opener against Utah State in three weeks, and Nathan Peterman, who had that disastrous start at Florida last September.

"I think all of them are improving," he said. "I think Nate Peterman really took some very important steps in moving forward today, and so did Justin Worley. Justin's starting to play with much more confidence, more command of the line of scrimmage. We still need more, but I see that overall development starting to happen."

It starts with completing the easy passes, which has been a bit of an issue so far this month. The Vols track balls on the ground in practice, and coaches repeatedly have said there have been too many for their liking. For the quarterbacks, accuracy has been a problem.

"We've been missing some of the easy throw-and-catch -- we say 'pitch-and-catch' -- balls that are normally completed," Worley said. "I think it just requires a little bit more focus and little bit more time with the receivers. We've got it corrected, and the coaches have faith in us that we can make all the throws, so we've just got to go out there and execute.

"Coming off a summer where we don't throw against a live defense or anything like that," he added, "it does take a few days to get your timing back and get back on rhythm against a press defense. I wouldn't say I was surprised completely. It's going to happen occasionally."

Though Jones said Tennessee lacked his preferred number of big plays offensively, the Vols did put together some sustained drives of eight plays or more.

With the second teams facing off, Peterman led the Vols on a 14-play drive from the offense's 1-yard-line to the defense's 2, but Lemond Johnson delivered what fellow safety Brian Randolph termed a "big hit" to force a fumble.

Said Jones: "It's a great illustration for our defense: Just give me a place to stand; just keep playing, keep scratching, keep clawing."

Randolph came up with the only other turnover of the night on what Jones called a "great play" by nickelback Justin Coleman, who got a hand on the ball to force the interception.

Worley noted receivers Josh Smith and Pig Howard and the running back trio of seniors Marlin Lane and Devrin Young and freshman Jalen Hurd as players who stood out to him, and Jones named freshman tight end Ethan Wolf on offense and safeties Randolph and Devaun Swafford defensively.

Still, it's hard to ignore Jones's praised of Peterman, who may be making a move on sophomore Josh Dobbs in the Vols' pecking order after he was perceived to be the clear-cut No. 3 entering training camp.

"I try not to pay attention to the media much, unfortunately. Sorry, guys," Peterman said with a sheepish smile. "I had no idea. My approach is always the same all the time, just to go out there and perform to the very best of my ability no matter the situation.

"I think my confidence is always high. I think as a quarterback you have to have a high confidence level, or else you're not going to be very effective. I always try to stay confident in my abilities and just go out there and have fun and play."

Tennessee's quarterback situation still lacks a definitive answer, but the feeling about the state of the position appears to be better than it was during this past week.

"Honestly, I think they're doing great, and I'm not just saying just to say that," Smith said. "I've been seeing them work, and they're competing with each other in a good way. They're working their tails off, and I'm proud of them. I think we're going have the right guy."

More buzz for Barnett

The positive chatter around freshman defensive end Derek Barnett continued after Saturday night's scrimmage.

Jones said the 6-foot-3, 267-pound former consensus four-star recruit out of Brentwood Academy "continues to show out," and teammates are continuing to take notice, too.

"He stuck out to me," Randolph said. "From play one to play five, or the end of the drive, he's going 100 percent. He shows great effort and he's always near the ball.

"He's very athletic. The drive, he doesn't have a big head. He's very humble and just comes in here and grinds and works like the rest of us."

Should the Vols continue to monitor Curt Maggitt's reps throughout the rest of camp, it'll open even more opportunities for Barnett to show what he can do, though he's done plenty already.

"He's worked himself into a role on this football team," Jones said. "Now I'll go back and see exactly where he's at, because he had to play in some extended drives. ... Of all the young individuals right now on the defensive front, Derek Barnett is the one who's really standing out right now."

Jones also said he's "really, really pleased" with freshman linebacker Dillon Bates.

'Give and take'

Jones declined to name a winner between Tennessee's new-look offensive and defensive lines from Saturday night, although a couple of offensive players praised the way the offensive line performed.

"I thought both sides of the ball had their moments," Jones said.

Worley said the Vols' offensive line "did a great job," and Hurd was complimentary of the line as well, and the number of lengthier drives the Vols had without a surplus of big plays confirms their reviews.

"It was some big third-down plays on offense, which we've got to get off the field on defense," Jones said. "It was some big runs. I think Jalen Hurd continues to get better and better and better."

Tennessee tidbits

Safety Todd Kelly was a notable absence for Saturday night's scrimmage, and Jones called it a "setback." The promising freshman tweaked his right knee during a drill during Saturday morning's practice and received some attention from a couple of members of the training staff. He was walking around cautiously as the open viewing portion of practice ended. ... The Vols continue to limit All-SEC linebacker A.J. Johnson's practice work to get the rest of their inexperienced linebacking corps increased reps.

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.