Tennessee opens QB competition

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee coach Butch Jones says he's opening up the Volunteers' quarterback competition.

Junior Justin Worley has started each of Tennessee's first three games and is atop the depth chart for Saturday's game at No. 19 Florida, but Jones said Monday that he would start whichever quarterback performs the best in practice. Tennessee's offense struggled last week in a 59-14 loss at No. 2 Oregon that represented the Vols' most lopsided varsity defeat since 1910.

Worley is 35 of 57 for 372 yards with five touchdown passes and one interception this season. Redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman has gone 6 of 12 for 40 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. Jones didn't rule out the possibility of starting Riley Ferguson or Joshua Dobbs, two freshmen who haven't played at all.

"Just like any position in our program, it's open," Jones said. "Whatever quarterback has the best week of practice will be the starter for Tennessee when we play Florida. If that means a freshman quarterback, that means a freshman quarterback. We'll add more quarterback run into our package this week. We just need to find ways to generate big explosive plays. If that's Josh Dobbs running the read option or Riley Ferguson, that's what we'll do."

Jones wants his offense to create more "splash plays" that generate big chunks of yardage. Worley is averaging 10.6 yards per completion to rank 81st nationally in that category.

Worley also is the least mobile of Tennessee's four scholarship quarterbacks.

"You have to earn your spot each and every week," Jones said. "We'll see what the freshmen can handle. Nate Peterman continues to progress along. He's an individual, at 6 a.m., he's the first person in the building every single day. He has a great grasp of knowledge. I continue to see him getting better. And I think Justin's getting better, but I just think competition is healthy. It's going to be a week-to-week process of who can manage the offense the best."

No quarterbacks were made available to the media Monday.

"I feel like I played all right," Worley said Saturday after the Oregon game. "I took what the defense was giving us, but we needed some more big plays than we generated. Hopefully in the next weeks to come, we'll be able to generate some more explosive plays."

Worley has avoided mistakes this year after entering the season with five career interceptions and one touchdown pass, but Jones wants the junior to be more aggressive. Jones cited Worley's 4-yard touchdown pass to Jason Croom against Oregon as an example of what he wanted.

"The play he had on the touchdown pass to Jason Croom, I thought he stepped back, he was assertive, he set his feet," Jones said. "He demanded command in the pocket, and he was confident, and he threw the ball in there and he was accurate. We need him to attack more."

Jones had no update on the status of defensive tackle Maurice Couch, who was declared ineligible for the Oregon game as the university investigates a Yahoo! Sports report that he accepted improper benefits. Couch isn't listed on the depth chart for the Florida game.

Jones said defensive tackle Trevarris Saulsberry will probably miss three to six weeks after injuring a knee at Oregon, but he expects wide receivers Alton "Pig" Howard and Johnathon Johnson back this week after both missed the Oregon game with injuries.