Once-in-a-lifetime quarterback tourney

Coaching tip from Don Shula: “Luck means a lot in football. Not having a good quarterback is bad luck.”

Marvin West

This is a very exciting time for Tennessee football fans. With the coming of springtime, they can look forward to a once-in-a-lifetime quarterback tournament.

Never in my 60-something years of monitoring the Volunteers has there been such four-way uncertainty. Anything might happen and probably will. Wide open competition. Everybody equal. All starting from ground zero.

So says Butch Jones, absolute authority on such matters.

What we have here are:

Senior Justin Worley, 6-4, 222, most experienced, game-manager type, not much to brag about in individual accomplishments.

Sophomore Joshua Dobbs, 6-3, 202, highly credentialed, No. 2 in experience, more promise than production, serious intent, purchased outside coaching help during Christmas holidays.

Sophomore Nathan Peterman, 6-3, 221, excellent qualifications, one half of one game in knockdown experience at Florida, negatives linked to coaching miscalculation. Courage to continue.

Redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson, 6-3, 192, secret weapon who might be a match for the pass-run mix Coach Jones seeks to deploy against Oklahoma and the great teams of the Southeastern Conference. We’ll see.

The three who participated last season did not score high in quarterback ratings. Even Kentucky had greater efficiency. Operating behind a veteran offensive line bound for the NFL, Worley, Dobbs and Peterman produced 1,979 passing yards.

That was the second time in two decades that Tennessee did not reach at least 2,000 throwing and catching. The poor passing attack and losing record wasn’t all the fault of quarterbacks.

Fifty years ago, young Doug Dickey surfaced as coach of the Volunteers and faced somewhat similar confusion – to a lesser degree.

Dickey made the daring switch from what was thought to be the tired, old single-wing to the exciting T formation. He had to find or manufacture someone to take the ball from center and do something with it, even as ill-natured defensive ends, tackles, linebackers and the occasional blitzing cornerback threatened mayhem.

Hal Wantland, heart of a lion but not as swift, was first choice. He threw 34 times in 1964, completed 11, lost three interceptions, generated 131 yards but failed to launch a touchdown pass. He ran hard.

David Leake, an athlete lured from the dining room staff, was a pleasant surprise as walk-ons go. He hit 13 of 22 for 212 and one TD. He helped win the Georgia Tech game. He was minus-eight as a runner.

Art Galiffa eventually claimed the job. His numbers were 29 of 59 for 338 and one score. He lost four picks. He ran, mostly in self-defense, for 47 yards. He wasn’t built for violence but avoided getting killed in the stunning 7-7 tie at LSU.

The best quarterback on the team, Dewey Warren, was the happy-go-lucky redshirt star of the scout squad. He sometimes riddled the varsity defense in scrimmages. There was talk of bringing him up late in the year.

Dewey could add and subtract – a few minutes in two or three games would cost one season of eligibility. Not such a good idea. He gained the spotlight a year later and became a legend (pages 109-114, “Legends of the Tennessee Vols”).

Necessity requires that someone emerge from the forthcoming quarterback tournament. The winner may prove to be a genuine champion with high point potential.

Tennessee certainly needs one, even if he doesn’t achieve Swamp Rat status.

Marvin West invites reader reaction.
His address is westwest6@netzero.com.

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