We’ll start with the quarterback situation since that will be on many people’s minds going forward.
Justin Worley went down in the fourth quarter against Ole Miss last week and initial thoughts were that the senior quarterback would be good to go against Alabama. Worley spoke to the media after the Ole Miss game, a practice that normally doesn’t happen if there are significant injury concerns.
But as the week went on, Worley continued to feel discomfort, couldn’t throw the way he needed to and his status continued to get more questionable and Nathan Peterman and Joshua Dobbs split first-team reps in practice as the Vols prepared to play without Worley.
By Friday Worley was ruled out and the decision was made to start Peterman and have Dobbs ready to go as well. The coaches kept that decision under wraps as much as possible to gain any tactical advantage. Peterman didn’t do much on two drives and Dobbs clearly stated a case that he should be the starting quarterback with his performance.
It wasn’t flawless and some of the mistakes he made as a true freshman returned on Saturday, but considering the opponent and the fact that he hadn’t played in a real game in nearly 11 months, Dobbs really gave the offense a spark according to Butch Jones.
“He adds another element in terms of the run game,” Jones said. “We were able to run in the game. Any time you have a running quarterback that poses another threat to the defense in terms of gaps.”
So will Dobbs be the starter going forward? Jones wasn’t willing to commit to that, calling Justin Worley’s timetable uncertain and saying that competition will continue between Dobbs and Peterman in the meantime. But based on that sample, Dobbs has a great opportunity to take the reigns of the offense going forward and nobody would be surprised to him start at South Carolina at this point.
Many will ask where this has been all year and why Dobbs didn’t play earlier. Truthfully, he had a very, very poor fall camp and wasn’t playing with much confidence. Credit the coaching staff for developing him throughout the season and building his confidence back up. On paper, the coaching staff thought Worley could make it through the season healthy and give the Vols the best chance to make the postseason while giving Dobbs a full year to redshirt and develop. Obviously it didn’t play out that way and that’s brought the Vols to the current situation.
It was no surprise that Coleman Thomas couldn’t go at right tackle. He was in a walking boot for much of the week and he’ll remain questionable going forward. It was surprising that Marcus Jackson couldn’t give it a go, but they weren’t comfortable with where he was all the way up to kickoff and were forced to shuffle the lineup. Speaking of that lineup, the group of Brett Kendrick, Kyler Kerbyson, Mack Crowder, Jashon Robertson and Jacob Gilliam had likely UT’s best performance of the year at o-line. Dobbs’ ability certainly helped them, but it will be interesting to see what the coaches go with when the injured players can return. Certainly Kendrick, especially, has earned a hard look at more playing time.
Expect the defensive line depth to get thinner. Trevarris Saulsberry appears to have re-injured his knee that he hurt in the preseason and he could miss some time – possibly the rest of the season. Owen Williams and Jordan Williams were also banged up, but the concerns aren’t as high on them at this point. Jones will have more updates on Monday.
Josh Smith (ankle) got some running in last week and is getting closer. It still might be a stretch for him to play at SC, but after the bye week looks promising. The Vols will weigh their options at that time, as he would be eligible for a medical hardship if he missed the rest of the season, but at this point it seems that he’ll play again this year. Devrin Young (ribs) could also return after the bye week. We’ll keep an eye on those two this week especially.
Nobody was pleased with the 14-point loss to the Tide, but the comeback and the solid works by Dobbs and the o-line have certainly breathed some energy and momentum into the locker room. That’s not to say anything is guaranteed going forward. South Carolina certainly showed some good things at Auburn and will present a test on the road for the Vols.
But, as many predicted, it’s a four-game season for the Vols now with three wins needed. It won’t be easy and the Vols lost multiple opportunities this year to earn some breathing room, but it’s certainly possible at this point.
It was an important visitor weekend for Tennessee as they hosted a few very critical targets for the 2015 class. Obviously, by now, everyone is familiar with Drew Richmond and the emphasis that Butch Jones and his staff have put on trying to get Richmond in orange. Jones even went so far as to us Tuesday’s post-practice media session as an opportunity to recruit Richmond indirectly.
Here’s the transcript of Butch Jones’ entire recruiting pitch:
“The mid-state area is a very, very strong recruiting base for us but the entire state of Tennessee is a very strong recruiting base for us. But again, you look at the individuals, particularly this past year’s recruiting class from the mid state area, they are all making an impact on our football team. There is great high school coaches there, there is great players. We want individuals that want the opportunity to represent their home state institution and if they don’t, we wish them well. But they are going to watch us win a lot of football games down the road. There is something unique and special when you represent your home state institution. It is something that brings value, not just for three, four, five years of your career, it brings a lifetime value. That is where the Vol For Life program comes in. That is where you leave your legacy. You will end up working in this state when you get your degree from the University of Tennessee or you get your degree and go play in the National Football League and come back, you are going to make Tennessee your home. Everyone knows who you are, you see the treatment that our former players get in this state, their relevance, the magnitude of being a Vol For Life is very, very important to us.”
It was pretty clear to those in attendance that Jones’ words were directed mostly towards Richmond and Kyle Phillips – the top-2 in-state targets for the 2015 class – but this is the type of statement that will make the rounds across the state for years to come with high school players and coaches alike.
As for Richmond’s visit, I wouldn’t expect much to come from it in the short term. This is going to be a long process for Butch Jones and he is going to have to win this one over the course of the next few months. If Richmond decides to make another visit to Knoxville in the coming months, then I would say that the Vols are moving quickly in the right direction. That said, this weekend did nothing but hep the Vols’ chances with the Memphis stud.
The biggest news coming out of the weekend has to do with 2015 receiver/athlete Ryan Newsome. Newsome as been interested in Tennessee for quite some time, but Tennessee has only recently turned up the heat in his recruitment. Newsome visited Ole Miss earlier in the month, Tennessee or the Alabama game, and will travel to UCLA and Oklahoma over the next two weeks before making his decision. There is reason to believe that Tennessee stands to be in good shape with Ryan after this weekend’s visit, and I would not be surprised if he were to ultimately decide to join the Vols in the future. Newsome will be in town until Monday afternoon, and was “very impressed” with the game day atmosphere in Knoxville.
Here’s the RTI breakdown of Newsome’s film and how he fits into Tennessee’s system:
“Newsome is a very interesting player for Tennessee in this class. The Vols already have a big, physical receiver for the outside in Preston Williams, but they would like another receiver in the 2015 to play in the slot moving forward. Newsome is smaller than your prototype slot receiver in the SEC, but he offers amazing speed, quickness and agility that you don’t see very often. He absolutely excels as a punt returner and would immediately give the Vols a strong option in that role from the moment he stepped onto campus. He is deceptively strong for his size and does a nice job of finishing runs by getting low and delivering the hit instead of receiving it.
He has exceptional balance and a low center of gravity which makes him difficult to get to the ground without a clean shot, and he has exceptional vision and cutting ability to find the openings in the defense and hit them at full speed. Newsome would give Tennessee an extremely versatile athlete with the ability to line up in a bunch of different places on both offense and special teams.”
There were also some other visitors in this weekend as well. Johnny Frasier, Bryce Love, and William Sweet all made it in along with Jack Jones, Andrew Butcher, Darrell Miller, and Shy Tuttle. The Vols are currently in position to be very selective down the stretch on the recruiting trail, so I wouldn’t expect much news in the near future regarding commitments outside of Newsome or maybe a guy like Quarte Sapp.
Tennessee will likely set up another big recruiting weekend in December or January when the coaches will host most of their top targets on their official visits. Expect that group to be relatively small as far as uncommitted players, but a very highly ranked group as far as recruiting services are concerned as Tennessee looks for the final few pieces to add to the 2015 recruiting puzzle. I would also expect all of the committed players to make their way into town for that weekend as well to help Jones and the staff put the full court press on the guys they covet most.
If you missed our Commitment Stats post from Saturday, I highly recommend you check it out to see how current Vol commits fared on the high school gridiron this week. Click here to view the post.
The Vols return to the floor this afternoon for practice. We’ll have video, notes and updates from the floor and from our time with Donnie Tyndall and a few players this afternoon. In the meantime, feel free to watch this video from Ben Frederickson of the best dunks from Big Orange Madness.