KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Coach Butch Jones answered the biggest question of Tennessee's training camp on Thursday afternoon as the Volunteers held media day at Neyland Stadium. More accurately, Justin Worley answered it for him.
Jones named Worley the Vols’ starting quarterback, making his decision official two days after saying the team needed to know who its quarterback would be.
"He's earned the right to be the starting quarterback at the University of Tennessee," Jones said.
"It started in spring football and continued through training camp. This hasn't been putting together one or two practices, (but) it's been an accumulation of reps since the spring. Justin is playing the best football he's played in a long time."
Worley has appeared in 17 games in his Tennessee career, with 10 starts. He started seven games in 2013 after winning the job the job in preseason camp, but was lost for the season after a thumb injury suffered against Alabama.
The senior from Rock Hill, S.C. was playing perhaps the best football of his career at the time of the injury, having just led the Volunteers to an upset win over his home-state Gamecocks. That performance followed a near upset of of No. 6-ranked Georgia two weeks prior. Over the two games, Worley threw for 394 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
Worley handled news of his starting assignment just as Jones expected he would.
"Justin Worley-like fashion," Jones said. "Not much of a smile, just 'All right coach, let's go. We've got work to do.' He was very business-like. Justin expected to be the starter and worked exceptionally hard and that's what I would expect from him"
Jones met with all three quarterbacks that fought for the job, but didn't have to remind Joshua Dobbs and Nathan Peterman that they needed to stay ready. All three quarterbacks started games in 2013 and all three have to prepare the same way every week.
"It's the theme in football, you're always one snap away," Jones said. "It's a challenge when you're the number two or number three because you have to prepare as if you're the starter, but your reps are cut. They're very prideful individuals, they're competitors and they understand."
Jones said Worley's reaction to the news was typical for a player known for his calm and, at times, unassuming demeanor.
"I just said 'Thank you for the opportunity,'" Worley said of his meeting with Jones. "He was very complimentary of my play as of late, showing that it was my job to be the leader of the offense, my job to lead the team."
As Jones mentioned in talking about meeting with the quarterbacks as a group, the competition is not over, it will be something that will continue to push all three players as the team moves from training camp to game preparation.
"He told me to put my head down and keep grinding," Worley said. "Don't lose sight of the competition aspect of it and to continue to be the leader I've been."
Worley said expecting to be the starter may be overstating his position, but he was hoping that his work would pay off with holding his position."
"All three of us started off shay early on, but we've really picked it up and I think I've really picked it up and stepped up my game," said Worley. "I think the guys look to me as a senior quarterback and the leader of the team."
As part of the launch of the SEC Network, ESPN's Ryan McGee was on hand at media day for player interviews that will air during the initial hours of the network.
"Today is a special day with the launch of the SEC Network," Jones said. "We're excited with the magnitude of what that's going to provide in terms of selling the Tennessee brand from coast to coast in over 90 million households."
The network's presence at media day fired up the players interviewed.
"It's nice having the SEC Network here on our media day on their first day," senior linebacker A.J. Johnson said. "It's going to be nationwide, so everyone is going to see Tennessee. If you don't know about Tennessee, you're going to know."
Johnson is excited about having Tennessee featured coast to coast with the local flavor of UT's on-campus studio and production team.
"It's great to know we have our people here to help tell our stories and make sure Tennessee is out there with all of things we do" he said. "We have a great network and a great system here."
On the lighter side of media day, players went on set with VFL Films for "Me or You," a game where each player held up a sign indicating whether a statement applied more to him or the teammate sitting next to him.
Among the first players in the hot seats were twin brothers Elliott and Evan Berry. One question caused a little controversy between the two. Evan admitted his brother was the better cook, but took a little offense at the digs Elliott took
"He just can't cook," Elliott said.
"I can cook, man." Evan fired back
A head shake from Elliott was the only response.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @larryfleming44)