Justin Worley Named Starting Quarterback
It was the meeting Justin Worley had been waiting for. Likely not so patiently.
As expected, the junior was named Tennessee’s starting quarterback for Saturday’s home game against Austin Peay. Worley was told by head coach Butch Jones and offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian on Sunday evening.
“`You’re our guy going into Week One,’” Worley recalled Jones saying. “He told me that he didn’t want me to have any worries, looking over my shoulder or things like that about playing the position. Basically, he told me to take the control of this team, this is your team and take this opportunity and run with it.
When asked if he were relieved to be the starter, Worley said, “A little bit…I guess just knowing officially that I’m the starter, there is a sense of relief. It’s an honor and a privilege to play quarterback here.”
News broke about the pending announcement on Sunday. UT then released a depth chart showing Worley as the starter before his weekly press conference. Worley was previously in a four-quarterback battle with redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman and freshmen Riley Ferguson and Joshua Dobbs.
It remains to be seen if Worley can hold onto the starting job throughout the season. Peterman and Ferguson showed late improvement in camp. Dobbs has the most athletic ability.
Yet it was Worley’s day on Monday. His head coach said Worley had become the alpha male he had been looking for since being hired last year by Tennessee. Worley doesn’t always seems liked the alpha male that Jones described. He’s been a bit soft spoken. Admittedly, that needs to change.
“”I wouldn’t say it’s that hard for me, but I think he (Coach Jones) wants a little more,” Worley said. “Just continually learning how to lead, and how each guy responds to different styles of leadership, whether or not you need to get on them hard or just coach them, so just continually learning about each and every one of my teammates.”
Worley is a junior because of a questionable decision by former head coach Derek Dooley, who played Worley in 2011 and burned his redshirt. It was a decision Dooley was roundly criticized for.
“I was shocked that I was playing because I thought going into that season, I had the mindset that I would be redshirted. Playing against Alabama when I came in was a little bit of a shock, but then I had to adjust pretty quick going into the next week,” Worley said. “I was a little shocked that they were going to put me in, especially in that situation.
“When I walked out there, I thought `I haven’t played football against anyone other than my own team in a year.’ It was a good feeling to be out there.”
Worley completed 55-percent of his passes in 2011 and 65-percent of his passes in 2012. He has thrown for 738 career yards, five interceptions and one touchdown.
When asked what separated Worley from his quarterback competitors, Jones said, “It was an overall body of work. It was taking care of the football, and we charted anything and everything. We wanted to make the best educated decision for our football team and our football program and it was taking care of the football. I think the game experience had a little bit to do with it as well. You couple that with an extremely young offensive football team.
“Yes, we have some veteran players up front, but everywhere else we’re young. I believe we have 54 career receiving yards from our starting wide receivers. I think the overall game experience and him taking care of the football, but I thought Nate Peterman did a tremendous job. Nate was the first one in today, at 7am, watching film.
“And I thought our true freshmen, both of them did an outstanding job. They’re behind, obviously, mentally and physically, and you can see a little bit of a -I don’t want to say a dropoff- but you could see a little bit once school started. They’re experiencing a full academic work load. They’re experiencing college life. They’re experiencing the game-day rigors of what it is to be a quarterback at this level and any level in college, so I think all of that came into play.”
Worley said he has been intently studying Austin Peay with his teammates, preparing himself to start the season.
“A lot of it’s film work, a lot of it’s talking to the guys, especially about the opponent and what they’re seeing, wideouts and what they’re seeing from corners and DB’s, offensive line and what they’re seeing from the fronts and defensive linemen, as well what we’re watching,” Worley said. “It’s just being on the same page as everybody as a whole group.”
Worley’s main goal now is keeping the course, continuing to be the alpha male and lead his teammates. That means don’t play hesitantly.
“Both Coach Jones and Coach Jake told me, `Don’t hold back now’,” Worley said. “I guess maybe during fall camp there were times where I was extra careful with the football, trying not to make that mistake or whatever. But they told me don’t worry about making that mistake. Go out, play your hardest and perform as well as you can.”
Jones didn’t rule out playing more than one quarterback against Austin Peay on Saturday. It remains to be seen if that would have Worley second guessing his position.
“We’ll see how the game goes,” Jones said. Right now Justin Worley is our starter, and he’s our starter. You get back to the question that was asked about looking over your shoulder. I don’t want our quarterbacks, if they make a mistake, looking over and wondering when they’re going to get the hook.
“That’s now how I believe in developing quarterbacks, but they do have to produce. We have to be patient, as well.”
Therein lies the challenge for Jones and his assistant coaching staff in what should be a challenging season.