It wasn’t supposed to go this way. When Justin Worley, Nathan Peterman and Joshua Dobbs met with the media to kick off fall camp last week, Peterman might as well have been a ghost. Everyone focused on Worley and Dobbs, the two QBs who were supposed to battle it out for the starting job throughout August, and largely ignored Peterman.
And that was probably justifiable. Peterman’s lone start last year was unforgettable for all the wrong reasons. His final stat line: 4/11 for 5 yards with two interceptions, two fumbles (one on a handoff exchange and one on a sack) and one broken thumb in a half of action on the road against the Gators.
Yet, after nine practices, Peterman, not Dobbs, is the one currently pushing Worley for snaps – even earning first-team reps earlier this week.
“I think Nate Peterman really took some really important steps in moving forward today and so did Justin Worley,” Butch Jones said about his quarterbacks after Saturday’s scrimmage.
While Worley has been getting the vast majority of first-team reps, Peterman has surpassed Dobbs as the No. 2 quarterback. In fact, Peterman was the most accurate QB during open portions of practice this week and consistently connected with receivers on deep balls – an area Worley and Dobbs have struggled mightily.
“I feel like I’m always making strides,” Peterman said in regards to his accuracy. “But I always feel like I’ve got to get better. You’re never there – never arrived – so I’m always trying to get better.
“I feel a lot more comfortable and I think everybody is feeling a lot more comfortable in knowing their assignments. It frees them up to go and make some big plays because they’re not worried about their assignments so much…The whole offense is getting so much better because we’re developing comfort in the offense.”
Of the three scholarship QBs on the roster, only Peterman has shown significant growth since spring practice. He’s had consistent zip on his passes and, after a devastating performance in his only start last year, is playing with confidence. His development hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“He’s looking great. Nate is one of the hardest workers, but no one knows that,” Vol sophomore receiver Josh Smith said after Saturday’s scrimmage. “He stays after it. He’s always in the film room – always in there. He’s improving every day, honestly. It’s day and night from last year.
“It [the Florida game] took a toll on him. He tells me every day he’s working and I expect that from Nate…now he has a lot of motivation because everyone was down on him. I want the best for him. I know exactly what he’s working for and I’m proud of him.”
The coaching staff needs someone to push Worley, who will be the starter unless someone steps up and takes the job from him, and an inconsistent Dobbs hasn’t been able to do so. Peterman, once a forgotten man, has been one of the most surprising players of camp thus far. Remember, he pushed Worley last August and finally beat him out heading into the Florida game. Through nine practices, Worley looks much more like the player Peterman beat out than the one who led the Vols to victory over South Carolina. And Peterman looks nothing like the QB we saw last year – he looks significantly better.
“My confidence is always high,” Peterman said after Saturday’s scrimmage. “As a quarterback you have to have a high confidence level or else you’re not going to be very effective. I always try to stay confident in my abilities and go out there and have fun and play.”
As the Vol QB race heads into its second full week of fall camp, don’t sleep on a confident Peterman – he’s the only QB on the roster playing the best ball of his career.