By Steve Williams

Off-season bad news has stung the University of Tennessee football program once again.

Riley Ferguson, red-shirt freshman quarterback who many thought might become the starter in 2014, took his football and went home.

Maybe he had a good reason.

Maybe he felt had had a better chance of playing sooner elsewhere.

Maybe we will hear the reason from him someday.

Best wishes to Riley and now let’s embrace the quarterbacks who are still here and competing to wear the Orange.

Coach Butch Jones confirmed the news on Ferguson last week at the SEC’s spring meetings in Destin, Fla. This year’s off-season football drama arrived early.

Butch’s first summer in Knoxville last year was nice and quiet.

Summer ‘13 stories included UT web site pieces on “Meet Your Seats” at Neyland Stadium, the 47th annual All-Sports picnic, Vols participating in KPD Training Day, UT players completing 1,322 community service hours and a report on 39,000 fans who supported the team in an open practice.

Before you knew it, Tennessee beat Austin Peay 45-0 to open the Butch Jones Era on Sept. 1.

Summer of 2012 saw a Tennessee quarterback get involved with KPD in a different way. Tyler Bray and an older man were slinging beer bottles on parked cars from an apartment balcony. Derek Dooley, then the coach, said Bray just needed to work on his accuracy.

I always said Dooley could be a stand-up comedian, if coaching didn’t work out.

Dooley’s first summer in Knoxville, in 2010, saw him have to return from a vacation trip to deal with several players who had been involved in a brawl at Bar Knoxville on the strip. Two men were injured, including an off-duty police officer, who allegedly was kicked as he laid defenseless on the ground after attempting to help stop the brawl.

In the summer of 2009, UT fans were still trying to get use to Lane Kiffin’s ways. He had committed four secondary violations and gotten under the skin of about that many opposing SEC coaches, including Steve Spurrier, Urban Meyer and Nick Saban.

And now Kiffin is working for Saban. How things change.

The Vols are probably going to struggle in 2014. But not returning any starters on the offensive and defensive lines of scrimmage will hurt Tennessee a lot more than the loss of Ferguson. When they say games are won and lost on the line of scrimmage, they aren’t kidding.

Tennessee still has scholarship quarterbacks Justin Worley and Joshua Dobbs and even Nathan Peterman, who continues to work at getting better after his woeful start in The Swamp last season. I like his determination.

Preferred walk-on freshman Devin Smith out of Grace Christian Academy has moved up to No. 4 on the QB depth chart, too.

I wonder if quarterback Charlie High, the Christian Academy of Knoxville product who gave up his preferred walk-on status last summer and transferred to Tennessee Tech, has any regrets now of making that move?

Actually, I was told recently, by a good source at CAK, that High had left the Tennessee Tech football program. Rusty Bradley, Charlie’s high school coach, confirmed that news Friday.

“He’s just going to go to UT and be a student,” said Bradley. “He’s just at a point where football is no longer fun and he doesn’t want to play anymore.

“Charlie had a great high school career and is now ready to start a new chapter in his life.”

So, best wishes to Charlie, too.

And let’s hope Worley, Dobbs and Peterman have a safe and productive summer, as well as all of the Vols.