KNOXVILLE - Early-morning arrivals to and late-night departures from the Tennessee football complex often lead to little sleep for Butch Jones, but the question of who will win the Volunteers' starting quarterback job doesn't appear to be a source of insomnia for him.
With the three-month winter portion of the four-man race to be Tennessee's starter now complete, Justin Worley, Josh Dobbs, Riley Ferguson and Nathan Peterman enter the next phase of the competition when the Vols open spring practice this afternoon.
"We'll chart and we'll film and we'll evaluate everything," Jones said Thursday at his news conference on the eve of his second spring as the Vols' coach.
"Every rep, like I told them, is a valuable rep," he added. "You don't know how many reps you're going to get, so you better make sure you make the most of every single rep. Every rep is for a championship. Every single rep is to be the starting quarterback.
"Has there been a timetable set on who our starting quarterback is? There are no timetables. That person will emerge. I don't know if it's the second week of spring. I don't know if it's after the conclusion of the Orange and White game. I don't know if it's a week prior to Utah State [in the season opener]. That will take care of itself.
"Right now, they just have to worry about making themselves better individually each and every day and being a leader and proving they can win at Tennessee."
In four of the Vols' five wins in 2013, Worley, now a rising senior, was the starter, and Tennessee lost three games after he suffered a thumb injury that required surgery.
With Peterman already on the shelf following a disastrous first half in a start at Florida and Ferguson slowed by a fractured tibia, the Vols had to call on Dobbs. Tennessee scored just 36 points in the true freshman's first three starts, but he finished on a strong note with 251 total yards against Kentucky.
The job has been wide open since then, and how long it'll stay that way largely depends on if any of the four makes a strong case to Jones and offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian with his play.
"I would like to have somebody step up and emerge and be our quarterback," Jones admitted, "but I'll also tell you this, is in building the identity of this football team and the quarterback position and every position, I've seen individuals, it's like momentum. It's like the positive energy and momentum we have going on right now.
"I see individuals start that momentum from spring practice carry that all the way through the summer months of strength and conditioning and move forward into August camp."
The competition this offseason appears to be more open than it was last season, when Worley took most of the first-team reps. He used his experience advantage to establish a slight lead on Peterman last spring, when Dobbs and Ferguson were finishing high school.
That was a year ago, though, and Jones noted some of the differences he's seen in the quarterbacks from the end of last season to now.
"They've all added the weight, the muscle mass, that they needed to, and with that comes improvement in arm strength," he said. "I think a full year in our system of understanding their reads, their progressions, the standard, the expectations, the leadership qualities that come along, the demands with this position, the demands in terms of being the quarterback -- I see them making tremendous strides.
"I'm excited now to see a football in their hands and see how far they've progressed from this past season."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org