For the 39,000 fans to attend the open practice at Tennessee Saturday night, they hoped to leave Neyland Stadium with some clarity regarding the four-man quarterback competition, but left with more questions than answers at the game’s most important position.
The presumptive starter since the spring for the season opener was Justin Worley, the only quarterback on the roster with game experience, but after completing five of his 17 pass attempts, the door is open for Nathan Peterman.
The 6’2”,221-pound redshirt freshman who came to Knoxville as a three-star recruit and the No. 17 pro-style pocket passer in the 247Sports composite rankings has somewhat been the forgotten man in this competition, but has been impressive of late.
JONES: I think Peterman did a great job in terms of managing the offense and taking care of the ball.
— Tennessee Football (@Vol_Football) August 18, 2013
Peterman completed eight of his 18 attempts Saturday, which doesn’t look overly impressive on the surface, but was victimized by some drops by the second team receivers and showcased a nice touch on the deep ball. Working in his favor is his ability to scramble and pick up yards with his feet and looks poised in the pocket.
I overlooked Peterman this spring because of questions about his pocket presence and mobility that played to the strengths of freshman Josh Dobbs who I wrote in April would be starting by Week 5 in relief of Worley. Dobbs has shown flashes of his potential, but it’s been the other freshman quarterback Riley Ferguson who has been the most impressive rookie, especially of late.
However, the two former four-star signal-callers still have some developing to do and I don’t believe Butch Jones throws either to the wolves early in the season. The quarterback he needs to press this week is Peterman. At Tennessee’s next practice I would expect Peterman to get more reps with the first-team offense, if not a 50-50 split, and see what he can do with a better supporting cast.
Quite frankly, Worley hasn’t done enough with his opportunities dating back to the spring game, and the competition is breathing down his neck to take his job. When he has starting experience and can’t separate himself form a pack of freshmen, I have to think it’s only a matter of time before he gets passed on the depth chart.
Top throw Sat. night thus far belongs to @NatePeterman. Freshman also brings added dimension of mobility. Making tough to not get reps w/1s.
— Danny Parker (@TheDannyParker) August 18, 2013
Meanwhile, Peterman looks like a new man after a tough outing in the Orange and White game when he was throwing to a depleted wide receiver corp. His accuracy has been much improved and looks to have the confidence you need out of the position.
Peterman has shown to have a nice touch on the deep ball and hasn’t buckled under the pressure inherent with a quarterback competition. Grace under pressure is one of the best traits for a quarterback to possess and Peterman has shown that—albeit in a practice setting—but looked like an SEC-caliber starter Saturday.
Will Peterman be the starter when the Vols open the season vs. Austin Peay? It may be too soon to call, but he’s making it hard for Jones to name a winner, and he sure looked like he gives Tennessee the best chance to compete for a bowl game on Saturday.
He may end up being the answer to the biggest question Tennessee fans have been asking for the past six months.