KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The second scrimmage of the Tennessee spring season had everything Butch Jones could have asked for in simulating game-type conditions.
The surroundings of Neyland Stadium, a crowd in the stands and an occasional rain shower that gave the Vols an opportunity to run through situations in a variety of weather conditions.
A crowd of more than 300 gathered for “Family Day” and saw a scrimmage in Neyland that began in dry conditions that quickly turned wet.
It was a made-to-order situation for Jones.
"This is part of the growth and maturation of our football team and the ability to play in the elements," Jones said after the session that lasted a little under two hours. "We try to simulate throwing wet footballs by dunking them in a bucket, but you can never really simulate playing in the rain. I thought these were valuable reps in terms of taking handoffs and how you take care of the football; a tremendous teaching day."
It was particularly important for the four-way quarterback battle that continues to unfold on the practice field.
"It was a productive day. It was good to get out in the rain and work on ball security, throw in the rain and catch in the rain," said sophomore Joshua Dobbs, one of the four competing for the job. "It was a good day as a team and for me. It was a good day to grow, and it is always a good day to come out and play ball."
Senior Justin Worley also relished the experience of working in the elements, particularly with the newcomers on the offensive line.
"It's rough to play in the rain as a quarterback, but you have to push through it," Worley said. "Towards the end, center-to-quarterback exchanges weren't as crisp as we would have wanted them to be. It just comes with repetition. We had a couple of new guys in there. Ray Raulerson and Dylan Wiesman were in there, but we aren't comfortable with all three guys yet, but that just comes with reps."
Beyond the elements, the scrimmage focused on situational work for in-game moments. A missed check-down in an overtime situation provided Jones with another teaching moment, on ball security in a specific overtime scenario.
"Every play is a teaching opportunity with this young football team," Jones said. "A lot of times when you're correcting one individual, you're correcting the entire football team, that's what teachers do. It was a great teaching opportunity at that moment of time for our quarterback position."
QUARTERBACK CHALLENGE CONTINUES
"We need an individual who can take care of the football and understand situational football," Jones said.
With the starting quarterback position still open, Dobbs, Ferguson, Nate Peterman and Worley are continuing to accept the challenge that Jones has given them.
Saturday's scrimmage in Neyland Stadium marked the eighth spring practice and each quarterback is recognizing the improvements they are making not only individually but also as a whole.
"Today, we were more crisp," Dobbs said. "With it being the second scrimmage, we were more used to coming out and playing. It was great to play in front of our families today who came from all around the country. It was another great day for us."
The competition this spring has strengthened the quarterbacks' bond. While vying for the No. 1 spot, they are also coaching each other as well, on and off the field.
"I think we have each challenged each other," said Worley. "We have all taken strides, and we are progressing and getting better each practice."
Each individual is progressing and Jones isn't the only one taking notice.
"I'm really happy with Joshua," said Peterman. "He is really starting to pick it up and I'm impressed with the play-making ability that he has."
"I've really been pleased so far with the play of all four quarterbacks," said Jones. "I'm very encouraged. I think we have a great competitive battle going there and it's an illustration- when you have competition at positions, every individual, if they're a great competitor, they improve. All four of these individuals are improving each and every day."
BULLOCK IMPRESSES UNDER PRESSURE
While the battle at quarterback has dominated spring drills, Jones is looking for someone to step forward kicking the football for the Vols. With the graduated Michael Palardy watching from the stands, Jones liked what he saw from sophomore George Bullock in a few pressure-packed situations.
"It was great to see George come out and play winning football," Jones said. "The mark of any good kicker is consistency in performance. He made some long field goals in some pressure type situations today. He got great height on the football so it was great to see that."
HEAD COACH BUTCH JONES
»(On the defense handling the tempo)
"I thought we improved procedurally in terms of lining up fast. We are playing more like we want to on both sides of the football, but this is a line of scrimmage league, and you have to be able to stop the run. Overall, I wasn't pleased with our defensive front. We held some players out, and that was a great opportunity for some of our younger players to be able to develop. You learn through repetitions. Today was a great teaching opportunity. We will come back on Monday and correct for improvements through video study."
»(On quarterbacks showing maturity)
"Trust is earned over time, and they know I am going to always have their back. Every play is a teaching opportunity with this young football team. A lot of times when you are correcting one individual, you are correcting the entire football team. That is what teachers do. It was a great teaching opportunity."
»(On the running backs)
"I think that position group is really starting to come on. Marlin has been a warrior for us. He is playing with a cast. To have him back for game-speed reps was big for us today. Jalen Hurd continues to develop, and he needs as many reps as he can. Today was extremely productive for us."
RS FRESHMAN QUARTERBACK RILEY FERGUSON
»(On getting comfortable reading defenses)
"Yeah, I'm getting really comfortable reading defenses. That's the main thing I've been working on, looking at a lot of film work on a lot of coverages and stuff and I feel like I'm getting pretty good at it."
»(On improvements in turnovers since first scrimmage)
"I feel like overall today we did well taking care of the ball but when we got down to the red zone there were just some moves we made that weren't right now we just have to go watch it on film, learn from it and get better."
SENIOR QUARTERBACK JUSTIN WORLEY
»(On today's scrimmage)
"I thought, offensively, we had one of our best days moving the ball and with some explosive plays. Jason Croom had a couple of touchdowns. Josh Malone had a touchdown. Jalen ran the ball well, and Marlin did too when he was in there. I thought we had a good day. We got moved down to the five-yard line and the offensive line moved the defensive line pretty well. I thought it was a good day overall."
SENIOR LINEBACKER A.J. JOHNSON
»(On today' scrimmage)
"They're trying to get the younger guys more developed and let them get reps and get out there and perform. How you learn the most is just getting out there and playing, so that was a big key.
"I feel like we had a little more (energy) because we had people out here or something like that, but we're learning and getting better as a team. It was a good day."
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)