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VOL. 38 | NO. 32 | Friday, August 8, 2014

Other than QB, both lines and kickers, Vols all set

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KNOXVILLE – One week into fall camp, University of Tennessee football coach Butch Jones and his assistants are just getting started.

They must assemble a new offensive line – the entire starting unit from 2013 has departed – and pinpoint a starting quarterback.

Also on the to-do list: Revamp the defensive line, which returns no starters from a year ago, and find a replacement for All-SEC place-kicker/punter Michael Palardy.

Yes, Jones and the Vols have some big questions to be answered before the Aug. 30 season opener against Utah State at Neyland Stadium.

It’s no wonder Jones ended his pre-camp press conference July 31 with these words to the media: “As always, great to see everyone, and look forward to the next couple of months together. Be kind.”

In other words, be patient. This project might take some time.

Although the most urgent issues may be the offensive and defensive lines, the quarterback situation will get plenty of attention during camp.

Jones isn’t in any hurry to publicly announce the starting quarterback, and he has three choices: senior Justin Worley and sophomores Joshua Dobbs and Nathan Peterman.

Each brings different talents and levels of game experience.

Worley, 6-foot-4, 224 pounds, has the most starts (three as a freshman in 2011, seven as a junior last year) and was getting lots of snaps with the first team early in fall camp.

Worley endured a tough season last year – starting the first three games, getting benched and replaced by Peterman for the fourth game at Florida, reclaiming the starting job for the next four games when Peterman broke his hand against Florida, and then suffering a season-ending thumb injury Oct. 26 against Alabama.

Dobbs, 6-foot-3, 203 pounds, started the last four games after Worley’s injury and gave UT a different look at quarterback: More speed and quickness than Vol fans have seen at the position in a while.

Dobbs’ 189 rushing yards last season as a true freshman – in only five games – was the most for a UT quarterback since Tee Martin’s 317 yards in 1999.

Peterman, 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, looks to be the third quarterback in the race, but he’s not out of it. He’s in his third year with the Vols after redshirting in 2012. He played in four games last year with the one start against Florida.

Jones may wait until the week of the season opener to announce a starting quarterback to keep the three in competitive mode.

“For us, it doesn’t matter when we name (the starter),” Jones says. “They’re all three going to be ready, and all three must be ready.

“Shoot, we found that out last year with what happened, so whoever it is, when the time’s appropriate. The great thing about it is, they all bring a different dynamic.

“If Joshua Dobbs is our quarterback, you’re going to see more [of a] quarterback run game. Justin can run the quarterback run game, but you may see a little different personality. Same thing with Nate Peterman.

Quarterbacks Nathan Peterman (12), Joshua Dobbs (11) and Justin Worley (14) work on their technique during preseason practice. All are vying for the starting job, with no clear front-runner so far.

-- Ap Photo/The Daily Times, Mark A. Large

“They all bring a little bit of a competitive advantage. Each has their own strengths that they bring to the table.”

Whichever quarterback is on the field, Jones will be counting on the rebuilt offensive line to give him some protection. It’s a group with limited game experience.

Junior guard Marcus Jackson, who redshirted last season, has played the most. He started five games as a freshman in 2011 and played in all 12 games in 2012.

Junior Kyler Kerbyson, who played for Knoxville Catholic High School, has the edge at the right guard opposite Jackson. He played in 12 games last season as a backup.

Mack Crowder, a junior from Bristol, takes over the center job with a total of 10 games played and one start (last season against South Carolina).

Fifth-year senior Jacob Gilliam is slotted to start at left tackle. He’s the feel-good story of the newcomers, a hometown player from Farragut High School who began his career as a walk-on and earned a scholarship.

UT could be starting a true freshman at right tackle if Coleman Thomas emerges as the No. 1 there – a scary thought if a true freshman lines up front in the SEC.

Jones is candid about his biggest concerns.

“It’s our offensive and defensive lines, and quite simply, we’ll be as good as those two positions develop,” he explains.

“They know it. Our players understand it. Our coaches know it, and it’s a great team game, and we have to do a great job as coaches trying to provide some relief, but there has to be a sense of urgency with everyone in this football program.”

On the defensive line, senior Jordan Williams has been converted from defensive end to tackle and should be a starter, barring injury. He started three games last year at end and five as a sophomore at outside linebacker.

Junior Curt Maggitt has moved from linebacker to the defensive line, at end, but missed last season due to injuries. Still, Maggitt has plenty of big-game experience (nine starts in 2012, eight as a true freshman in 2011).

Sophomores Corey Vereen and Danny O’Brien should also be in the defensive line rotation, along with several newcomers, including Dimarya Mixon, Owen Williams, Joe Henderson, Derek Barnett, Michael Sawyers, and Dwayne Hendrix.

“Everyone wants to talk about the offensive and defensive lines, but we have to replace our MVP, Michael Palardy,” Jones says. “We have to replace our entire kicking game. Palardy was a constant force for us last year.”

Two fifth-year seniors, punter Matt Darr and place-kicker/punter Derrick Brodus, have starting experience.

Darr was the starting punter in nine games in 2011 as a redshirt freshman and started the first six of 2012, but last year served as the backup to Palardy and didn’t play in any games.

Brodus came to UT as a walk-on from Alcoa High School – about 15 minutes from campus – and has kicked in five games, but none last year.

UT’s other kickers have zero college experience. Place-kicker Aaron Medley and punter Troy Waites are freshmen, and sophomore place-kicker George Bullock was on the practice squad last year.

“That is another storyline, as well,” Jones says of the kickers. “As we continue to develop our football team, how does our kicking team play into that?”

Good question. Jones will try to answer that and several others in the next couple of weeks.

Dave Link is a freelance writer living in Knoxville.

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