Although many questions surround the Tennessee Volunteer football program heading into the first spring practice on Friday, arguably the biggest unknown may rest under center.
Justin Worley, Nathan Peterman and Joshua Dobbs all started for the Vols last year, and all three return – along with redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson – which sets up a four-man quarterback battle for the second consecutive offseason.
With a multitude of options at the signal caller position, head coach Butch Jones said he's going to let the competition run its course, giving no indication of when a starter will be announced.
"There are no timetables," Jones said Thursday at his pre-spring practice press conference. "That person will emerge. I don't know if it is going to be the second week of spring, after the conclusion of the orange and white game, or a week prior to Utah State. That will take care of itself.
"Right now, they just have to work on making themselves better individually every day and being a leader. They have to prove that they can win at Tennessee."
And winning at Tennessee includes thriving in the SEC, a conference that has won seven out of the last eight national championships, so Jones is planning on a meticulous process to find a quarterback capable of succeeding.
"We will chart, film and evaluate everything," Jones said. "We will evaluate how they are in team meetings, in the classroom and how they perform in individual drills. Every rep is a valuable rep. You don't know how many reps you are going to get so you better make sure you make the most of every single rep.
"Every rep is for a championship."
It was a detail that Jones didn't try to hide about his Tennessee squad last season.
In fact, the second-year head coach made it blatantly clear that his team lacked playmakers last year.
The lack of explosiveness, however, is something the Vols hope to have an abundance of this year, as they added three wide receivers and three running backs in their 2014 recruiting class to go along with the maturation of their other young players.
"We all know we didn't have very many explosive plays last year, and it's hard to play perfect – you can't – especially in this conference," Jones said. "We need playmakers, so that's why I'm excited to see how far we've come, not just with the 14 newcomers.
"Jason Croom has had a very good offseason. Marquez North ... looks like a completely different person, he has tremendous confidence right now. He is one of those individuals that you just see that look in his eye and you see he's extremely competitive, but he's focused. He has that look in his eye that he's chasing greatness."
The overall increase in team speed should also positively affect the play of the special teams unit, where Jones thinks the Vols will see their biggest improvement this season.
"I think that's what will be the biggest difference in our football team, and it should be in terms of our overall team speed," Jones said. "I think that will be extremely evident in the special teams game from the returner position, but also in our coverage teams."
Out for spring practice
Wide receivers Drae Bowles and Ryan Jenkins, tight ends A.J. Branisel and Brendan Downs, safety Brian Randolph and defensive lineman Trevarris Saulsberry will not participate in spring drills for the Vols.
"They will split their time in the weight room and working on the mental aspect, so when we get them back in June or July, they will be ready to go," said Jones regarding the workload the six players will undergo while out.