KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The only hint Tennessee coach Butch Jones has offered about the status of the Volunteers’ quarterback competition is that he isn’t satisfied with the performance of any of the contenders.
Senior Justin Worley and sophomores Joshua Dobbs and Nathan Peterman all struggled in the first week of training camp.
That represents a major concern for a Tennessee program that ranked 111th among Football Bowl Subdivision teams in passing efficiency last season.
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”We’re not playing winning football at that position right now,” Jones said. ”I’m always going to be brutally honest with you, and those three individuals need to step up. It’s just an overall consistency in performance.”
Worley, Dobbs and Peterman each started at least one game last year and combined to throw 17 interceptions and only 12 touchdown passes.
Worley made seven starts before undergoing season-ending thumb surgery. Dobbs started the final four games. Peterman started a 31-17 loss to Florida in which he broke his hand, knocking him out for the rest of the season.
Tennessee also has added walk-on Mike Wegzyn, who started 14 games at Massachusetts over the past two seasons.
All the quarterbacks have experienced accuracy problems thus far. After the first day of training camp last week, Jones said he counted 62 footballs on the ground from incompletions. He noted that ”the great teams I’ve been around, we have about 18 to 20 on the ground.”
The situation hasn’t gotten much better since.
”Efficiency is what we’re hunting – and we’re not efficient right now at that position,” Jones said. ”We’re going to go back, we’re going to refine it. But our passing game needs to take monumental strides the next couple of days and moving forward.”
Jones made his comments Thursday and wasn’t scheduled to talk to reporters Friday. Offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian said after Friday’s practice that the quarterbacks responded well to Jones’ criticisms from a day earlier.
Bajakian added that the quarterbacks must be more consistent.
”I want them to come out and execute the offense with a level of consistency where we’re making what I call the pitch-and-catch throws, the easy completions,” Bajakian said. ”We came out today and had a good day, but again, if nothing else, that’s an illustration of the consistency that we need.
”It’s not good enough to have a subpar day yesterday and then come out today and have a great day. We need to perform at a high level day in and day out if we’re going to be a great quarterback group.”
Whichever candidate wins the starting spot should have more help this year. Tennessee fortified its receiving group with the addition of newcomers Josh Malone, Von Pearson and Vic Wharton. The Vols also added depth at tight end after getting just 15 catches from that position last season.
Worley and Dobbs reported to training camp eager to show what they’d learned after spending part of the offseason with George Whitfield, a quarterbacks coach based in California. They also discussed how they’d benefit from working with the same coaching staff at Tennessee for a second straight season.
”Not having that consistency, yeah, I’d say that’s disappointing,” Bajakian said. ”By no means am I panicking. They’re good players. We’ve got a bunch of good players in my meeting room, and they work hard and they’ve got the right mentality. It’s just a matter of coming out and performing day in and day out.”