Breakout Vols: QB

InsideTennessee will spend the next two weeks profiling potential "breakout" players for the University of Tennessee football team. Sign in or subscribe now to read the first installment.

Justin Worley wasn't ready for his first start as a college quarterback. Then again, who would have been under the circumstances?

Launching your first collegiate pass against a South Carolina defense ranked among the NCAA's five stingiest is akin to playing your first round of golf at Augusta National. You're biting off too much too soon.

Worley's college debut was predictably underwhelming. He completed just 10 of 26 passes for 105 yards with two interceptions in a 14-3 loss to the Gamecocks. Showing great resilience, however, he bounced back to complete 23 of 32 for 291 yards against Middle Tennessee and 15 of 29 for 208 at Arkansas.

Worley's three 2011 starts produced solid numbers — a 55.2 completion percentage, an average of 201.3 passing yards per game and a 110.39 passer-efficiency rating. More importantly, those three games proved he can handle the pressure of playing quarterback at the SEC level.

"It's made a world of difference," he said recently. "Everything's a little slower, and my comfort level is up. Those three games of experience have helped a ton."

That certainly appeared to be the case in spring practice, as Worley's numbers improved in each of Tennessee's three full-scale scrimmages. After passing for 110 yards in the first, he threw for 138 in the second and 143 in the Orange & White Game. After completing 50 percent of his passes (21 of 42) in the first two outings, he connected on 65.4 percent (17 of 26) in the spring game.

Because of superior mobility, mid-term freshman Nathan Peterman is a serious candidate to be Tennessee's breakout performer at quarterback in 2012. After completing 4 of 8 passes for 13 yards in the first spring scrimmage, however, he missed the second scrimmage and the O&W Game due to a dislocated finger.

As a result of that untimely injury, here's how he stacks up in the battle for backup duty behind starting QB Tyler Bray:

Peterman: no college starts, no college appearances, no college passes, one scrimmage performance, six months in the system.

Worley: three college starts, four college appearances, 68 college passes, six scrimmage performances, 18 months in the system.

Peterman's mobility may give him more upside than Worley. Still, Worley's huge advantage in experience makes him the more likely backup option should Bray succumb to injury for the second season in a row. Historically, players make their greatest progress from Year 1 to Year 2, and Worley is preparing to embark on Year 2 at Tennessee. By all accounts, he is ready this time, mentally and physically.

As Worley himself put it: "Now I know I can make plays at this level."


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