Weighing in on Worley

Change is coming with the Tennessee football team's starting lineup for its matchup with South Carolina on Saturday night. Sign in or subscribe now to read more.

Tennessee's fans were shocked when freshman Justin Worley, supposedly headed for a redshirt year, was inserted into the lineup near the end of Saturday's loss at Alabama. Tennessee's players were not.

"Nah," senior tailback Tauren Poole said earlier today. "It's not going the way it should be at the quarterback position, and I know Coach (Derek Dooley) is going to make the best decision for this football team. And right now that's Worley."

A native of Rock Hill, S.C., the 6-4, 200-pound Worley will make his first college start Saturday night against South Carolina. He takes over for senior Matt Simms, who completed just 6 of 20 passes versus LSU in Game 6 and 8 of 17 in Game 7 versus Alabama. Worley got the first-team repetitions at quarterback in Sunday's practice and apparently handled them quite well.

"He was calm yesterday," Poole said. "He was IDing the Mike (identifying the middle linebacker) and he did a great job of communicating."

Worley was the Gatorade National Player of the Year as a high school senior in 2010, so his teammates aren't cutting him a lot of slack.

"He's kind of feeling the expectations," Poole conceded. "Those guys are expecting him to be the quarterback. He has to. He can't be a freshman, even though he is. He can't be a young guy right now because he's getting his shot."

Junior tight end Mychal Rivera sees some of the same qualities in Worley that he saw a year ago in Tyler Bray, who also took the QB job in the late stages of his freshman season.

"Definitely," Rivera said. "He's a real tall, athletic guy with a great arm. He's dedicated to learning the system, which is very important at the quarterback position."

Worley reportedly shows considerable poise in practice for a rookie.

"I do see his poise coming along," Rivera said, "but we won't be able to tell for sure until he gets in the game and you see him react when he gets blitzed."

Poole agreed, noting that "I feel like he's confident and he wants to play. I asked him yesterday if he was ready to go, and he was like 'Yes, sir.' I don't know why he called me sir. I said, 'We're here for you. I believe in you 100 percent. I know these coaches believe in you because if they didn't they wouldn't put you in as the quarterback. Hopefully, it'll help us."

Bray actually was given the first-team job to start the second half of last year's game with South Carolina. His first pass was a pick-six interception but he bounced back to play exceptionally well thereafter.

"It's the same situation Bray was in," Poole recalled. "He got thrown in there. It didn't go great at first but he got through a couple of breaks and started playing well."

One of the knocks on Simms is that he holds the ball too long and takes too many sacks. Apparently, that is not a problem for Worley.

"He gets the ball out as fast as he can," Poole said. "He throws well. He's confident in his arm, confident in his ability, confident in us. He's a humble guy. Hopefully, he'll step in and do a great job and we'll protect him. I'll continue to reiterate to him that we believe in him. We believe in whoever is back there, and we believe in him right now."

Although a freshman can't be expected to understand the offense as well as a senior like Simms, Worley reportedly has a pretty good grasp.

"I think he does," Poole said. "I'm sure he's meeting with Coach (Jim) Chaney and Coach (Darrin) Hinshaw, and they're getting him ready to play, watching a lot of film. He didn't look nervous yesterday, and that was his first time working with the 1s."

Like Bray, Worley got the benefit of participating in a spring practice before starting his freshman season. That should be a significant benefit.

"At this point I think it helped him a lot because he learned the offense and he knows what's going on," Poole said. "But he's going to have to show that. It's easy to do that in practice but harder to do that in a game when the scheme's coming at you and the speed's coming at you, so we'll see on Saturday."

Tennessee coach Derek Dooley is making the tough decision to bench an upperclassmen quarterback in favor of a true freshman for the second year in a row.

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