"I've seen tremendous improvement since the first day he got here," Vol quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw said recently. "Having the split practices helped him because he got a lot more reps (practicing with other freshmen, while Bray and Simms practiced with veterans)."
Bray was lost this time last year but made such significant strides in September and October that he was starting by November. Hinshaw envisions Worley making comparable strides in time.
"I think it could be a similar progression," the Vol aide said. "He got to go through a spring game, and now he's in a situation where he's a lot more familiar with what's going on. He's starting to get attached to routes and things where he's feeling more comfortable. He's got to keep that comfort zone building."
Adjusting to the speed of college football is a hurdle for most freshmen but especially a quarterback, since he has more information to assimilate and process than any other position.
"The speed of the game is the key to a newcomer because that's what's different from high school," Hinshaw said. "It was a much slower game, and now it's a fast game. His decisions have to be faster, his reactions have to be faster, and he's getting there. That's the key - reps and continuing to get better."
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney suggests that Worley is performing the way most freshmen do — looking really good at times and looking really lost at other times.
"Justin's trying to figure out what he's trying to do," Chaney said. "As a freshman he's still a little off at times. But at times there are routes that he understands and he looks very good. It's just a natural growth for that position."
Because he is not a first- or second-teamer, Worley's practice repetitions are limited. That's especially true now that the season is less than a week away and the coaches are trying to get Bray and Simms ready for the opener.
"It's tough," Chaney said. "If you could feed him all of the reps you'd probably expedite his progress. But we're not going to do that, so he needs to keep learning on few reps and get better."
Simms sees signs that Worley is getting a lot better.
"Justin Worley from spring to now is like night and day," the senior quarterback said. "It's unbelievable how much more he's improved, how much of the offense he can learn each day. He's really done a great job. He works extremely hard for a young guy. He's going to do some good things here."
Worley's passing stats in the three preseason scrimmages were nothing to get excited about. He went 7 of 16 for 45 yards in the first, 3 of 8 for 56 yards with two interceptions in the second, then 3 of 8 for 17 yards in the final scrimmage. Still, junior receiver Zach Rogers detected tremendous progress from the spring to now.
"I can definitely tell a difference. He's a lot more comfortable with the playbook," Rogers said. "When he first came in here in the spring you could tell he was shy. He knew how to play quarterback but not particularly at this level — just getting in here with these guys and learning the offense. This summer helped him a lot — running 7 on 7s and kind of being a leader for our team. As he progresses every day he'll find his playing time."