Tennessee's first scrimmage of pre-season camp went into overtime Saturday night under the lights of Neyland Stadium --- and that's exactly what Butch Jones scripted and wanted as he continued to examine a quarterback race that seems to have two contestants forging ahead.
Following a lengthy scrimmage that included myriad game-like situations and hypotheticals, Jones pointed to the overtime work as some of the Vols' most valuable heading into Sunday's off day and a high-priority upcoming week that features only football and no summer classes.
Jones maintained that all three Vols signal-callers --- senior Justin Worley; sophomores Nathan Peterman and Joshua Dobbs --- remained contenders to helm the Tennessee offense, but after singling out the work of both Peterman and Worley Jones later reiterated some players are outperforming others.
"It's still all three, but some individuals are performing better than others right now," he said. "Very valuable [teaching moments]. We did an overtime segment with different scenarios, the offense down by three, the offense down by eight and also the first possession of overtime. And all those are teaching moments in situational football that we cover in camp."
Worley, intercepted early in the scrimmage on a batted ball that observers said was more a good play by the defense, and particularly Brian Randolph, than it was a poor throw, said he bounced back in overtime as the Vols' offense found some high-pressure success.
"I got ripped for a couple of fade balls I threw, too. But it's all about knowing the situation, knowing what you need," said Worley, who in Saturday morning's practice also showed a command presence when he gathered up quarterbacks and offensive linemen following some wet-football drills. "Coach Jones threw it all at us."
Worley noted of particular value for the Vols' offense Saturday night were the game-deciding situations the offense and defense confronted near the end of the scrimmage.
"First possession, we got the ball first. We lost the coin toss and had to score," Worley explained. "I think we converted, and then the next situation we were down by 3, so we either needed three points or a touchdown to win it. I think we converted right there, so it's all about knowing the situation, knowing what you need and not forcing the ball into tight coverage down in the red zone."
Peterman, who started one game last season and suffered a season-ending hand injury, said his focus and that of the Vols' offense was bringing a steady approach daily. Peterman also acknowledged a greater confidence and comfort in coordinator Mike Bajakian's offense.
Peterman was strong early in the Vols' scrimmage but tailed off a bit late, when Worley appeared to elevate his game.
"I felt like that's been a big goal of mine and major point of emphasis with Coach Jake, also. Developing a consistency in the passing game is something we've all been string to take steps for," said Peterman. "Not completely satisfied in that area. Like I said, I kind of fell off of that today with the one-minute drive. Can't happen with that and I have to get better in that.
"I just think myself, and a lot of the other guys, are just feeling more comfortable in the offense. So, seeing defenses, pointing out certain linebackers or pressures, or anything that is coming, has been a major point of emphasis and communicating with the whole offense so that helps us get a broader vision of the defense and get more comfortable in it."
Consistency, likewise, was the word that Dobbs reiterated as the second-year player acknowledged some big plays made by the offense as a whole --- and some plays left unfulfilled.
"There were a lot of plays out there," Dobbs said. "A couple of the plays in the red-zone where we need to complete our fade balls and that goes along with timing and accuracy. We had a lot of big plays today. I know Pig had some huge catches today and Josh Smith had some good 3rd down conversions. It was a good day as a unit."
Dobbs also addressed the accuracy problems that Jones had referenced from quarterbacks during the Vols' work throughout the week.
"I'm just working on perfection," Dobbs said. "If I make one bad throw, I just want that throw back. I know there are things I need to improve on and my goal is to be perfect. I know I will make mistakes, but my goal is to bounce back if I do. We talk about a snap-and-clear mentality and that's whether the last play was good or bad."
After a week of mostly publicly challenging his quarterbacks, Jones said the group stepped forward under the lights.
"I saw marked improvement in the quarterback game," Jones said. "I still need more command at the line of scrimmage, but I saw them manage the offense. We made some routine throws and that is the main thing. Just consistency in performance. Just overall consistency. Just manage the offense. Make the routine plays and keep plays alive. I thought all three quarterbacks made strides tonight."
Worley felt he continued to step forward in a variety of intangibles requisite for the quarterback --- and also said he felt he just now was locking in-sync with the Vols' wideouts.
"I think there's definitely a bigger confidence level. I'd say a lot more so in the protection game," he said. "Knowing where people are coming from, being able to identify defensive fronts and different looks. I think our communication overall is better. Being able to point out things to the offensive line if they don't see it, or being able to point out a hot (read) to a tight end or something. I think that's helped out a lot. I think that's something where I've developed a lot in.
"I think so; it's taken a little while to get back in the hang of it [a rhythm], three or four days, but it's only up from now."
Especially, Worley noted, as the Vols continue to develop a bevy of weapons at the skill positions on offense. Von Pearson and Alton 'Pig' Howard were among the playmakers in the passing game who stepped up Saturday night while Worley touted the Vols' emerging three-headed monster in the backfield of Marlin Lane, Devrin Young and Jalen Hurd.
"I told them, they're going to be some studs for us. All three of them," Worley said of the Vols' tailbacks. "They all bring a different element to the game. I'm excited to see what they bring to the table. I know we had Rajion (Neal) and Marlin last year, but I think we've got three really, really strong runners that we can rotate through this year."
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