KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Second year head coach Butch Jones took to the microphone Friday after the Volunteers first spring practice voicing several positives. Energy, enthusiasm and leadership were among the things mentioned but Jones also made a note of his matured and healthy quarterbacks.
Similar to 2013, there will be an open competition for who will be the Vols signal caller this season.
Tennessee returns three starting quarterbacks from last season in Justin Worley, Nate Peterman and Josh Dobbs. They also return redshirt freshmen Riley Ferguson who will compete for the job as well.
"It was great," said Jones of seeing four healthy quarterbacks throwing. "Never been through a year like we were last year with the injuries at that position, so again, competition is extremely healthy. You could see it- not just inner-positional competition but on both sides of the ball."
Worley, as senior, leads the group having started seven games last season. The sophomore, Dobbs, had four starts and Peterman had one in 2013. At this point it's too early to determine a front-runner, let alone a winner so the group is just focused on making each other better.
"Our goal as a position group and as a team is to come out every day and compete and make sure we're consistent in our performance," said Dobbs. "We're just working hard to continue to grow as a team. It's our second year in the offense so it's a great chance to build on where we left off last year."
However, the real mystery remains to be what Ferguson can do. After suffering an injury to his right leg he redshirted the year. Ferguson said the year of learning greatly helped.
"I look at it as a positive," Ferguson said. "We compete every day, that's what we do. We're quarterbacks, we're different than everybody else. We live at a higher standard than everybody else so we just push each other every day and that's the main thing we're focused on is just getting better every day as a quarterback and as a whole."
There will be no excuses this year for the young quarterbacks, Dobbs and Ferguson. With a year under their belts Jones said they should know what to do, how to practice and how to prepare. The key for success going forward?
"Continue to improve. Take care of the football," said Jones.
DEFENSIVE BACKS SPRING FORWARD
The Tennessee Volunteers took no time in the offseason to start getting better for the 2014 season and on Friday the Big Orange and its defensive backs hit the practice field for the first time as Team 118.
The excitement has been building on Rocky Top for the return of football season and junior defensive back LaDarrell McNeil has sensed it every day since November.
"We were really anxious," said McNeil. "You could feel it when we were just walking to classes, in the team room and in the position room. You could tell we were pretty anxious."
McNeil was not the only one excited to see what Team 118 would bring to Haslam Field on day one of spring practice though.
Newcomers redshirt junior Von Pearson and freshman D'Andre Payne stood out to McNeil.
"They all caught my eye," McNeil said of the early enrollees' intensity.
It may just be the conclusion of practice one of 15 but the Dallas, Texas, native is eager to see what the spring holds.
"I think we're [defensive backs] going to be pretty special this season."
COLEMAN READY FOR ANYTHING
Vol senior defensive back, Justin Coleman, is ready to get back out on the field and make a difference in 2014. With last season in the past, Coleman is ready to move forward with Team 118.
"I don't really want to think about last year right now," said Coleman. "I'm just looking forward to this year."
Coleman is ready to step up into a leadership role for the team. He is even prepared to switch positions from corner to nickel to help out the team.
"I'm willing to play anywhere. If they put me at linebacker at 190 I would play there," said Coleman.
Coleman also believes that under Head Coach Butch Jones during the offseason the team was able to come closer together as players and coaches. Team 118 now knows the expectations of the Volunteer program and they are eager to compete.
POUND BY POUND
If one thing was evident when Joshua Dobbs and Riley Ferguson came off the field from the first spring practice of 2014, it was their appearance. In the offseason, both quarterbacks gained some weight- healthy weight that is.
Both Dobbs and Ferguson have worked closely with Dave Lawson, Mike Szerszen and the entire strength and conditioning staff and collectively added around 40 pounds of muscle to the Volunteer roster.
"That's something that we challenged him [Joshua Dobbs] and he responded," head coach Butch Jones said. "He needed to add the extra weight. All of our quarterbacks did. I think Dave Lawson, Mike Szerszen, our strength and conditioning program did a great job of getting our players stronger."
As a quarterback in the Southeastern Conference, the leader of the offense often faces big and intimidating defenses and both Dobbs and Ferguson recognize the challenge needed to become a bigger presence on the field.
"I know SEC- there are some big boys out here, so I had to put on some weight," said Ferguson.
The Matthews, N.C., native entered his Tennessee career at 173 pounds and now weighs in at 198. Dobbs entered Friday's practice at 213 pounds.
Here are sound bites from Coach Jones and the players after Friday's practice.
HEAD COACH BUTCH JONES
»(On the first day of spring practice)
"There was energy, there was a spirit, there was a competiveness that I hadn't seen before. I thought our older players did a tremendous job of really taking leadership, of going drill to drill. There was a competitive spirit."
»(On the passing game)
"Our passing game needs a lot of improvement and we all know that. It stems with being able to make big plays, big plays were almost nonexistent last year. So today we had some big plays against some quality players. So that makes us very optimistic. Again, it is really relatively very, very young but we do, we have to make big plays. I think we have some individuals now that are capable of making big plays."
»(On offensive linemen stepping up)
"Mack Crowder. Mack is an individual who has really led the group and he is kind of the leader. He is our center, he makes a lot of the upfront calls. I have been very pleased with his leadership capabilities that he has brought to the table so far."
FRESHMAN QUARTERBACK JOSHUA DOBBS
»(On having more playmakers)
"Last year we had great athletes but it's always great to get more great athletes. Adding them with Marquez North and Jason Croom and J.J. Johnson and many of the other receivers we have - Josh Smith - I think it will be awesome."
» (On the youthful offensive line)
"Our offensive line has done a great job of improving and understanding things. Getting in the film room and watching last year's offensive linemen and learning. I think this offensive line is going to be very good for us and they have been doing a great job in the off season."
» (On his game experience being an asset)
"I think it does, game reps are huge. It slows the game down for me just mentally. Just knowing what the defense is thinking. I just have to continue to get better throughout this spring. Just like the rest of the team, just continue to grow and be the best offense we can be."
RS FRESHMAN QUARTERBACK RILEY FERGUSON
»(On how he feels entering spring practice)
"[I'm] Just trying to get better every day, taking it one day at a time and just learning from the other quarterbacks. We help each other out, that's what we do throughout camp and all throughout spring."
»(On commanding the offense)
"I feel like I have really good command. Just being out last year I think really helped me a lot in just preparing, learning the playbook more and off the field working with players and getting the chemistry down."
»(On enthusiasm at practice)
"We had a lot more enthusiasm. I think as a team we came out with a lot more energy. It's a different feel this year. I don't know what it is it's just a really good feeling."
RS SOPHOMORE QUARTERBACK NATHAN PETERMAN
»(On personal differences from last season)
" I hope I'm different. I hope I'm not just six months or a year older. This winter and offseason, I stressed to work really hard and improve some mechanical flaws I had and get a more consistent stroke and improve some little things also, more flexible and make better decisions. I hope I improved this offseason."
»(On spring practice)
"Really just excited- excited for any of the opportunities that the coaches give me and try to get better with those and really take advantage of any of the opportunities. Just have fun and love on my teammates also."
»(On spring practice expectations)
"Just to go out there and give my best. Control what I can control- my attitude, my effort. See where that and the coaches and everything happens."
SENIOR QUARTERBACK JUSTIN WORLEY
»(On staff continuity)
"It's awesome. We've kind of breezed through these first few installs and it's great to not have to relearn a bunch of new things for this new offseason. Last year, yes there was a learning curve for everybody, but having that continuity like you said is incredible to be able to build to this year from last year."
»(On entering 2014 spring practice)
"I think everybody was grasping the offense better. We moved smoother out there. Not too many people not knowing where they were going. Some of the freshmen, yes, that's what you expect. Von Pearson and Josh Malone both picked it up very well. I think it was just a good overall day to start off spring practice."
»(On recovering from thumb injury)
"It's been a developing process. The guys in the training room have done a great job with rehab and I mean, just out here throwing in the offseason, it's come along.
RS JUNIOR LINEBACKER CURT MAGGITT
»(On how it felt at practice with so many new teammates)
""It was a different feel definitely, but we've had a great off season. I feel like there's going to be a lot of competitive and a lot of good things to come from it."
»(On responsibility when head coach calls you 'heart and soul of the team')
"A lot. I feel like a lot of guys look up to me. Especially AJ, we're working on consisting our performance. We're working on coming out here everyday, relentlessly, getting the younger guys and showing them how we play Tennessee ball."
SENIOR DEFENSIVE BACK JUSTIN COLEMAN
»(On getting back out on the field)
"Everybody is excited to go out there. Right now we are just working on getting better, getting the techniques right, helping the younger guys. We are excited to play."
»(On competition with positions and the new guys coming in)
"There is always competition. Coach expects the best out of everybody. D'Andre (Payne) is someone who is very talented and agile. You can see that he really wants to play. Emmanuel (Moseley) too, they both really want to play. If they can to start at corner, they will start at corner. Something we will see a lot of is competition out of the corners."
JUNIOR DEFENSIVE BACK LaDARRELL McNEIL
»(On team continuity)
"I think it was great for the newcomers. You get to bond with the newcomers and you get to bond with the rest of the team and it was a great experience to just go there and have fun.
»(On defensive back positional goals)
"Mostly consistency. We want to be consistent in our production- tackling in space, ball disruptions, everything that can help us win."
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)