Throwing routes against air – no defense – should be among the most elementary of drills for players at the SEC level. Ideally, the completion percentage should be close to 100 percent in most cases.
That’s been far from the case at Tennessee this fall. There certainly have been moments of success, but overall this is a passing attack that has a long, long way to go if it’s going to be any kind of a strength for the Vols this fall.
“Not where we need to be,” Jones said when asked to update the progress of the quarterbacks. “Every individual needs to take accountability for their performance and we’re not playing winning football at that position right now – I’m always going to be brutally honest with you.
“Those three individuals [Justin Worley, Joshua Dobbs and Nathan Peterman] need to step up.”
The throws have often been erratic since camp started last Friday night. They’ve been skipped, sailed and just flat out missed in many cases. That’s been especially concerning considering some of the targets they have to throw to – 6-4 Marquez North, 6-5 Jason Croom and 6-3 Von Pearson and Josh Malone – who all provide a large catch radius with their size and leaping ability.
But even those large targets need to help the passing game out by being more consisteny. Malone was sent to “The Hole” on Thursday afternoon after he went up for a catchable ball with just one hand. Tight ends A.J. Branisel and Joe Stocstill – also large targets – were among several at that position that dropped catchable passes in one drill against air.
In live scrimmage work, North and Pig Howard both had balls bounce off their hands that contributed to stalled drives. It takes both quarterback and receivers executing at a high level. That’s simply not where UT is right now.
“It’s just an overall consistency and performance,” Jones said. “It’s not completion percentage – because you say, well there’s 60-percent completion percentage, but what about drops? Efficiency is what we’re hunting and we’re not efficient right now at that position. We’re going to go back, we’re going to refine it, but our passing game needs to take monumental strides the next couple days and moving forward.”
Offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian agreed with the assessment over the weekend after just a few practices, saying that no quarterback had demonstrated consistent accuracy to that point. That issue is lingering into the second week of camp.
There is upside for the passing game, however. While consistency and efficiency clearly aren’t there yet, this attack clearly has more weapons to work with. North has All-SEC potential now that he’s learning the nuances of the position. Howard has responded after missing the spring, Malone, though battling inconsistent performance, has made several long receptions this fall in camp and Pearson has made some jaw-dropping plays.
And Josh Smith and Vic Wharton – both relatively overlooked coming into camp – have caught virtually everything thrown at them this camp and can both help provide tremendous depth at the position.
But all of those receivers will have to be more than potential playmakers and evolve into consistent performers. A quarterback will need to emerge as well.
“As soon as one person steps up and takes control of the offense and takes command of the program,” Jones said of what he’s looking for before he can name a starting QB in camp.
That hasn’t happened yet. Saturday’s first scrimmage will be a great chance to find out if any of those strides are beginning to happen.