By Alex Norman
For a while it appeared that the unlikely was going to happen… All four of Tennessee’s quarterbacks in 2013 were going to return to the Vols in 2014.
Reality set in last week, when it became known that redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson was likely to continue his college career at another school.
Tennessee head coach Butch Jones told a group of reporters at the SEC spring meetings in Destin, Florida that “Riley’s no longer with the program.”
If anyone was going to depart you’d have thought it would be redshirt sophomore Nathan Peterman. He struggled mightily in his only career start, which occurred last September against the Florida Gators in Gainesville. He also suffered a broken hand in that game and became an after-thought as senior to be Justin Worley and sophomore to be Joshua Dobbs split the remaining playing time the rest of the season.
Instead, it is Ferguson leaving the team.
It is one of those fun facts about the sport of football. The most popular player is always the backup quarterback. For many Vols fans, Ferguson was the guy they wanted at quarterback simply because of the unknown. They had never seen him take a snap, but of course he has to be good…
Ferguson had the resume… he was a two time state champion from Butler HS in Matthews, North Carolina, rated by ESPN as a four-star recruit. But a leg injury prevented Ferguson from playing in 2013 (he likely would have started instead of Dobbs had he been healthy).
Tennessee fans got a glimpse of Ferguson in the annual Orange & White game, in which he threw for 83 yards and a touchdown. His two turnovers did little to squash the optimism from Big Orange Country.
But word started to leak off the UT campus about Ferguson’s work ethic. While Worley and Dobbs have spent some of the off season in California at quarterback guru George Whitfield’s Quarterback camp, Ferguson was reportedly unwilling to spend the time needed in the film room.
Erik Ainge, former Vols quarterback and current host on Tennessee Sports Radio, reported that “it was a laundry list of entitlement issues and classic immaturity” that led to this point.
If those words bring up a bunch of red flags, they should. They were the same kinds of things you heard about former Vols quarterback Tyler Bray.
At one time Bray was looked at as a no doubt about it future NFL first round draft pick. But in three seasons at Tennessee Bray’s childish ways were part of the reason the Vols reached new lows.
The biggest reason of course was head coach Derek Dooley. And Bray would have been better served had he had a coach that didn’t let him off the hook time and time again. The throat slashing taunts, the beer bottle throwing, the reckless jet-ski incident, the on field pouting… Bray needed discipline, and Dooley gave none.
Bray ended up leaving Tennessee after his junior season for the NFL, went undrafted, and signed with the Kansas City Chiefs. This year he’ll be fighting former Georgia standout Aaron Murray for a roster spot.
Like Bray, Ferguson has the potential to become a very good quarterback. Like Bray, he also has the potential to flame out. Ferguson will get another chance somewhere… perhaps at UNC Charlotte where his brother Zach will be a redshirt sophomore next season.
As for Tennessee, they will move forward with Worley, Dobbs and Peterman. Like in 2013, there is a decent chance all three QB’s get necessary playing time.
Will there be another quarterback controversy at Tennessee?
If so, Ferguson will once again be on the outside looking in…