Tennessee’s passing game, which ranked 13th in the 14-team SEC last season, didn't get much better in the offseason.
Coach Butch Jones lamented Friday about the inconsistent play of his quarterbacks Justin Worley, Joshua Dobbs and Nathan Peterman, and noted that if that position didn’t get better, it wouldn't spell good things for the Vols during the season.
“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.”
Quarterbacking plagued the Vols last season. Worley, Dobbs and Peterman all started one game last year and combined to throw 17 interceptions to just 12 touchdown passes. The quarterbacking corps were full of inconsistency, injury and just downright bad play.
But the future was supposed to be promising, especially since Worley and Dobbs spent part of the offseason training with quarterback coach George Whitfield, who is famously known for turning Johnny Manziel from a nonstarter into a Heisman winner.
No such fortune for the Vols’ quarterbacks who all struggled with consistency through the first week of fall camp. Jones said he counted 62 incompletions due to poor throws and noted that good teams have just “18 to 20 on the ground.”
“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,” offensive coordinator Mike 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.”
In theory, quarterback should be a position of strength for the Vols because they’re returning players. As a team, Tennessee is undergoing a major overhaul this season with the Vols replacing almost half of their squad from a year ago. They signed 32 players, including 14 that enrolled early. Jones knew there would be some bumps in the road, but he was hoping it wouldn’t be from players that had already been in the program.
Whoever does start will have some fine talent with which to work. Freshman receiver Josh Malone impressed in the spring game with six catches for 181 yards and three touchdowns. Sophomore Marquez North added five catches and 106 yards. Junior college transfer Von Pearson also showed some big-play ability during spring ball.
Freshman running back Jalen Hurd had 93 yards and a touchdown on just 12 touches during the spring game and Jones noted during SEC media days that he’s become even more committed in the weight room.
But all of this talent could become moot if Tennessee doesn’t find someone who can consistently distribute the ball.
“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.”
For more Tennessee news, visit VolQuest.com.
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