May 27, 2014

With subtraction, Vols now need major addition

Natural attrition is a part of the fabric of college football. It happens at every school and at every position on the field. Frankly, it has been expected at Tennessee and at the quarterback position. There was simply no way four scholarships quarterbacks were going to remain happy.

However, attrition wasn't expected to happen now and it wasn't expected to be Riley Ferguson.

But on the 27th day of May, the redshirt freshman from Charlotte, N.C., who has never played a snap of college football, doesn't want to be at the University of Tennessee and won't compete in a competition he couldn't wait to have at the start of spring practice.

This is the same gunslinger, who redshirted last year due to a stress fracture, that begged his head coach to put him in the game for the final play against Vanderbilt, blowing is redshirt year because he believed his arm gave the team the best shot at a hail mary against the Commodores.

That Ferguson, the one who would have played before Josh Dobbs at Alabama last year had he not been injured. That Ferguson, who along with senior Justin Worley was getting more reps the second half of spring practice than the other quarterbacks. That Ferguson has apparently decided he doesn't want to finish the competition. Seeking a release instead.

Ferguson spent mini-term in Charlotte, while Worley and Dobbs worked in California with quarterback specialist George Whitfield. Getting a break doesn't mean you aren't committed in many cases, but in this case maybe it was a pre-cursor to the fact that Ferguson doesn't want to be in Knoxville. Who knows? Why doesn't Ferguson want to compete for a job that's clearly there for someone to take and run with? We don't know for sure. We may fully never know. It's been no secret that his commitment to things at times has needed to be better. Not an uncommon notion for someone redshirting as a freshman. It's also no secret that Ferguson throws the best ball of any on the quarterbacks on the Vols roster. While we may never know the true reasoning behind Ferguson's decision to leave Rocky Top, what we do know is that it changes the timetable and the significance of Tennessee's quarterback recruitment for the class of 2015.

Before Ferguson's departure, quarterback was a need. With a graduating Worley and most of us wondering about Nate Peterman's plans for the future --- Peterman didn't push for more reps during the spring competition leaving most of us to see a four-man race as a three-man competition, a competition that's now a de facto two-man battle with one of the contestants not here in 2015.

That means the biggest priority on Tennessee's recruiting board is signalcaller. Suddenly, the Vols have more to sell and suddenly they need a buyer more than ever. Monday, Paul Fortenberry posted an updated quarterback big board. It's a board that can't go without getting a signature from someone who's on it.

In just over a week, Jones is holding a quarterback camp, where Jon Gruden has told Tennessee folks he will be in attendence. But after Tuesday's news, the possible arrival of Mr. Spider 2 Y Banana is secondary to the significance of the prospects here that weekend and the rest of the month.

Natural attrition may be normal. But after a year with two broken thumbs, a stress fracture, no clear cut winner in spring practice and the guy positioned second in the derby abruptly departs before summer, there's nothing normal about the quarterback position 18 months into the Butch Jones era.

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