KNOXVILLE — The second scrimmage of the Tennessee spring season had everything Butch Jones could have asked for in simulating game-type conditions. The surroundings of Neyland Stadium, a crowd in the stands and an occasional rain shower that gave the team the opportunity to run through situations in a variety of weather conditions.
A crowd of over 300 gathered for Family Day saw a scrimmage in Neyland that began in dry conditions that quickly turned wet. A situation that was made-to-order for Jones.
"This is part of the growth and maturation of our football team and the ability to play in the elements," said Jones after the session that lasted a little under two hours. "We try to simulate throwing wet footballs by dunking them in a bucket, but you can never really simulate playing in the rain. I thought these were valuable reps in terms of taking handoffs and how you take care of the football. Tremendous teaching day today."
It was particularly important for the four-way quarterback battle that continues to unfold on the practice field.
"It was a productive day. It was good to get out in the rain and work on ball security, throw in the rain and catch in the rain," said sophomore Joshua Dobbs, one of the four competing for the job. "It was a good day as a team and for myself personally. It was a good day to grow, and it is always a good day to come out and play ball." Senior Justin Worley also relished the experience of working in the elements, particularly with the newcomers on the offensive line.
"It's rough to play in the rain as a quarterback, but you have to push through it," Worley said. "Towards the end, center-to-quarterback exchanges weren't as crisp as we would have wanted them to be. It just comes with repetition. We had a couple of new guys in there. Ray Raulerson and Dylan Wiesman were in there, but we aren't comfortable with all three guys yet, but that just comes with reps."
Beyond the elements, the scrimmage focused on situational work for in-game moments. A missed check-down in an overtime situation provided Jones with another teaching moment, on ball security in a specific overtime scenario.
"Every play is a teaching opportunity with this young football team," Jones said. "A lot of times when you're correcting one individual, you're correcting the entire football team, that's what teachers do. It was a great teaching opportunity at that moment of time for our quarterback position."
Tennessee's football family welcomed over 300 members of the team's actual family to Neyland Stadium to watch practice on Saturday morning and to enjoy a day of fellowship at the Anderson Training Center following the session.
The crowd cheered on the Volunteers as the team went through the paces of the second scrimmage of spring practice. The guests retreated for cover as the rain began to fall, but gathered on the field for Jones' post-practice address and for a group photo on the 50-yard line.
QB CHALLENGE CONTINUES
"We need an individual who can take care of the football and understand situational football," said Butch Jones after Saturday's scrimmage.
With the starting quarterback position still open, Joshua Dobbs, Riley Ferguson, Nate Peterman and Justin Worley are continuing to accept the challenge that Jones has given them.
Saturday's scrimmage in Neyland Stadium marked the eighth spring practice and each quarterback is recognizing the improvements they are making not only individually but also as a whole.
"Today, we were more crisp," Dobbs said. "With it being the second scrimmage, we were more used to coming out and playing. It was great to play in front of our families today who came from all around the country. It was another great day for us."
The competition this spring has strengthened the quarterbacks' bond. While vying for the No. 1 spot, they are also coaching each other as well, on and off the field.
"I think we have each challenged each other," said Worley. "We have all taken strides, and we are progressing and getting better each practice."
Each individual is progressing and Jones isn't the only one taking notice.
"I'm really happy with Joshua [Dobbs]," said Peterman. "He is really starting to pick it up and I'm impressed with the play-making ability that he has."
"I've really been pleased so far with the play of all four quarterbacks," said Jones. "I'm very encouraged. I think we have a great competitive battle going there and it's an illustration- when you have competition at positions, every individual, if they're a great competitor, they improve. All four of these individuals are improving each and every day."
BULLOCK IMPRESSES UNDER PRESSURE
While the battle at quarterback has dominated conversation, Jones is looking for someone to step forward kicking the football for the Vols. With the graduated Michael Palardy watching from the stands on Saturday, Jones liked what he saw from sophomore George Bullock in a few pressure-packed situations.
"It was great to see George come out and play winning football," Jones said. "The mark of any good kicker is consistency in performance. He made some long field goals in some pressure type situations today. He got great height on the football so it was great to see that."