April 1, 2014

Ferguson finding greater command of offense

Far more so than Tennessee's first scrimmage of spring camp, the Volunteers' offense didn't play at a perfectly accelerated tempo but did find its gas pedal at times.

Never has Riley Ferguson been happier to both simultaneously speed up and slow down.

"Yeah, it's slowing down a lot. Learning the playbook's the main thing. And that's what I feel like I have a really good grasp on now," said the Vols' redshirt freshman quarterback following Saturday's damp scrimmage inside Neyland Stadium. "Learning defenses, because there's a checklist we have to go through within that first 10 seconds and it's a lot of things to go through. So we just have to keep practicing them and that's the main thing we've been working on in practice and things like that.

"Everything's starting to slow down now."

Especially, Ferguson emphasized, that pre-snap checklist that goes a long way in dictating the Vols' offensive tempo. There are multiple reads for the Tennessee quarterback in Mike Bajakian's offense as he gathers the offense at the line of scrimmage, Ferguson said, and those have become more routine for the former Elite 11 quarterback with increased repetitions this spring.

"There's three certain things that we have to, but then there are other side things that we have to look at like tendencies of the defense, stances, just anything like that that we see tipping us off just to give us an edge," Ferguson said.

Tennessee coach Butch Jones, who during this spring-long four-quarterback rumble has elected to keep his quarterbacks fully open to contact in scrimmage settings, admitted Ferguson has used those exhibitions to showcase more than his quick-release, high-velocity right arm.

"Yeah, one of Riley's intangibles or one of Riley's strengths is the ability to create plays when there's nothing there," Jones said. "Now the thing he has to learn is to avoid the catastrophic plays, and that was a great teach point like we just spoke about earlier. He does, one of his strengths is the ability to create plays when there's nothing there."

That 'catastrophic' play was an interception that Ferguson threw into double-, perhaps triple-coverage in an overtime situation on Saturday. The 6-foot-3, 189-pounder said he "definitely" would not repeat that mistake. And it's that component of his game in which Ferguson has felt he's most evolved.

"I'd say just working hard and being consistent. At practice when something goes wrong just not making the same mistake again," he said, "and then going in and watching and learning and fixing it on the field the next day.

"(Competition) motivates me a lot. We're all just competing and trying to help each other out. We're all just trying to get better every day and pushing each other because we know we're very good. Just pushing each other."

And if there's extra competitive juices percolating because the quarterbacks aren't protected in a scrimmage setting?

"I like being live, because if we're at practice just standing there knowing we aren't going to get hit it's different. You aren't going to escape the pocket maybe one time when you really should," Ferguson explained. "I like being live. It's more of a real look. Just knowing people are coming at you, you really have no choice. You can either stand there and get your head knocked off or roll out of the pocket and make a play."

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