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Justin Worley

KNOXVILLE - Justin Worley was the only quarterback on Tennessee's roster that had taken a snap in a college game entering last season, and he used that advantage to win the Volunteers' starting job.

This time around, the rising senior doesn't have that luxury.

It's a different season and a different competition for Worley and the other three quarterbacks vying to win Tennessee's starting job this spring practice, and the 6-foot-4, 228-pound South Carolina native understands it.

In seven starts and one relief of appearance of Nathan Peterman at Florida, Worley completed only 55.6 percent of his passes for 1,239 yards with 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions, but he was efficient and turnover-free in the Vols' overtime loss to Georgia and the upset of South Carolina.

Yet he hit in right throwing thumb on the helmet of a Gamecocks defender and aggravated the injury in the first half at Alabama, and the injury required surgery that ended his season and limited him at the start of the offseason.

Worley is fully healthy now, and he's competing with rising sophomore Josh Dobbs, redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson and the rising third-year sophomore Peterman.

After Tennessee's first spring practice on Friday, the Times Free Press caught up with Worley, and he discussed the Vols' competition and his recovery from the thumb injury.

Q: You've been through this before with a competition, so this isn't new to you. Does your mindset change? Is it the same?

Worley: "I'm just trying to take it day-by-day and be consistent in everything I do, not be up and down with missing easy throws that I was in the past. I think that comes with being around these guys, this not being their first year, getting around the first-years guys like [receivers] Von [Pearson] and Josh [Malone] and just focusing on me and what I can control and managing the offense."

Q: You mentioned some of the others guys, and Riley and Josh have been here now. This is not their first time. How does that change the dynamics of how you guys are competing on a day-to-day basis?

Worley: "The reps have been equal. Even the first day, reps are equal. You've just got to take advantage of every single rep that you get. Take advantage of every snap that you're playing against the defense or even just routes on air. You've got to take advantage of it all."

Q: When did you finally get 100 percent with the thumb, and was that testing your patience a little bit? Because I know you weren't full-go for the entire winter.

Worley: "It's been a developing process. These trainers are incredible, and working with them has been, I mean, it's been awesome. Them working on it every day and all that, I wouldn't say there was a set time where I was like, 'Oh, I'm 100 percent,' but going out there today, I felt completely normal."

Q: Did you miss some time? Was it tough knowing you got three other guys that are going for the same thing you are?

Worley: "When we got back from December [break] coming here, I was full-go to throw and all that. I didn't miss any time throwing routes on air with these guys, so that was good."

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