Spring Breakdown: Who's the No. 2 QB?

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As is the case with every position in football, players riding the bench are just a play away from being thrust into the starting lineup.

When Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray went down injured last October, the productivity of what had been a record-setting offense plummeted in a hurry.

Through coaching and recruiting, coach Derek Dooley and his staff are making strides in assuring that injuries to select players no longer completely alter the entire season.

With a 17-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio and an efficiency rating of 144.8, Bray's return to the starting lineup is indisputable. During his sophomore season, the 6-foot-6 slinger completed 147 of 247 passes for 1,983 yards.

This will be the Kingsburg, Calif., native's third spring on The Hill, and he is 8-3 in his career as the starter. He will have an opportunity to lead his back-ups by example.

So, now that the debate over who Tennessee's No. 1 signal-caller was over before it ever even started, the question marks circulate around who is No. 2 now that Matt Simms has graduated.

The two scholarship candidates are sophomore Justin Worley and freshman Nathan Peterman.

All three QBs passed on their final semesters of high school to get started in college life.

Tyler Bray's broken thumb caused an unexpected shakeup in the quarterback position in 2011.
(Danny Parker/InsideTennessee.com)
That simple fact is a major reason why Dooley and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney had enough confidence in Worley last season after Bray went down injured to start him as a freshman in Arkansas. And, if Peterman wasn't enrolled early, he would have almost zero chance of supplanting Worley behind Bray.

When Bray broke the thumb on his throwing hand against Georgia, there was no question then-senior Simms would take over. However, below average numbers and an inept offense forced the coaching staff to make a change.

The redshirt came off Worley when he entered late in the 37-6 loss to Alabama. Many were shocked, but it was the Rock Hill, S.C., product's opportunity to get the train back on the tracks.

Worley showed flashes in his three starts but threw just one touchdown in 87 attempts. The two picks against South Carolina were game-changing and the magnitude of just how valuable Bray was to the "fragile" roster became evident.

Fast-forwarding to Monday when the Volunteers commence their third spring under Dooley, look for now-quarterbacks coach Chaney to go over every pass at Haslam Field and Neyland Stadium with a fine-tooth comb in deciding who will back up Bray.

Peterman's competitive nature will not allow him to sit back, kick his feet up and be content with clipboard holding as a redshirt. While he isn't as tall (6-foot-2) in the pocket as his older teammates, he possesses an athleticism UT hasn't had since Brent Schaeffer.

The last time Tennessee won the BCS National Championship, it had a mobile quarterback leading its Pro-Style offense in now-USC wide receivers coach Tee Martin.

What Peterman did last summer in altering his mechanics showed he's extremely coachable from a physical and mental standpoint with an ability to retain the knowledge and rebuild his muscle memory. That sponge-like nature had the UT coaches salivating to get him on campus.

"We have certain criteria at all positions that we look for," Dooley told InsideTennessee. "Certainly some of the critical factors of being a good quarterback is your accuracy, your judgement and decision making, and then your makeup is so important. Makeup meaning what kind of leadership skills you have, what kind of character you have, your academics, all that stuff. And, Nathan is just off the charts is so many of those areas."

Peterman rated as a three-star prospect and No. 18 overall at his position by Scout.com. He passed for 2,932 yards with 36 touchdowns in leading Bartram Trail (Fla.) High School to the FHSAA Class 6A state semifinals.

If the Fruit Cove, Fla., native can show a firm grasp of the offense by the end of the spring or preseason camp, then he could pass Worley on the depth chart. If not, then Peterman will likely redshirt in 2012.

To see the Florida Associated Press Class 6A All-State selection talk Tennessee football just prior to enrolling in January, click play on the video below:

Be sure to keep InsideTennessee.com bookmarked to get the latest from UT's spring practices.

Danny Parker is currently the Associate Editor, Recruiting Analyst and Staff Photographer for InsideTennessee.com. He was previously the sports editor at Shelbyville Times-Gazette. He joined the InsideTennessee team July 2011.

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