Wiedmer: Peterman may be Vols' best quarterback for now

Wiedmer: Peterman may be Vols' best quarterback for now

August 18th, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Vols T logo

Vols T logo

KNOXVILLE -- You can make way too much of one public practice in attempting to pick Tennessee's starting quarterback.

Especially a practice conducted in a steady rain. And most especially with the added variable of one quarterback battling a vastly superior first-team defense as opposed to a second quarterback taking most of his reps against the unsung second unit.

So even though second-team QB Nate Peterman appeared to have a better workout than apparent starter Justin Worley, this competition probably is not over. Nor was Peterman so far out in front of Worley and freshmen signal callers Riley Ferguson and Josh Dobbs as to necessarily eliminate the rookies.

In fact, it does not seem to be a very big stretch to believe defensive back Justin Coleman's educated guess that "it could come down to the last day of practice."

But there's one throw that every quarterback in the Southeastern Conference, if not all of college football, has to make with near certainty to get on the field these days. It's the 10-yard out pass to the sideline. It's a non-negotiable skill.

It's a pass that must be thrown with velocity and accuracy. It cannot arrive late, or it's likely six points the other way. Especially in the SEC, which, as its seven straight national championships would suggest, is filled with the biggest, fastest, strongest, best players anywhere, including defensive backs.

And that is where the redshirt freshman Peterman appeared to have a clear edge on the junior Worley in Saturday's steady rain before a generously estimated crowd of 39,000 inside Neyland Stadium.

While Worley's "out" throws were deflected or knocked cleanly away at least four times, Peterman's seemed to have both more accuracy and more velocity.

Given that UT coach Butch Jones singled out the first-team secondary as a group that "made some plays," perhaps that was the problem. Worley's receivers were just covered better than Peterman's. It's a reasonable explanation.

But other than saying both Worley and Peterman "showed poise," Jones didn't spend much more time on his supposed No. 1.

Of Peterman he said, "I thought there were a couple of times on third-and-long he threw the ball away. Sometimes a punt is a good thing. He did a great job of managing the offense."

If you believe the Vols have the best offensive line in the SEC, it could be argued that managing the offense is all that's needed. It could further be argued that the older and more experienced Worley would be a more logical choice to manage such an offense than Peterman or the true freshmen.

And that may well be how it plays out, especially in the first few games, beginning with the Aug. 31 opener against Austin Peay and continuing through the second week against Western Kentucky and on to Oregon.

But Peterman can do more than manage. He can make all the throws -- at least he did Saturday -- including what was probably the best completion of the night by any QB. That was a 48-yard bullet down the middle of the field to Devrin Young from the offense's own 2-yard line.

Said one observer of the Vols' first two weeks of practice: "We haven't seen a throw like that all month."

Maybe it was just one throw on one soggy night. Maybe the next week will belong to Worley. Or a freshman. Maybe Coleman is right to predict this competition won't end for at least another 10 or 12 days.

But Coleman also said the following, a fact that no Vol privately would deny.

Asked whether Worley or Peterman threw the better ball, the junior defender swiftly said, "I definitely think Peterman had more zip. But he should: He has more arm strength."

In the SEC, you need zip and arm strength. Everything else being relatively equal, the Vols would appear to need Peterman as their starting quarterback 13 days from today.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com