Today is Sunday, July 23, 2017

Vols, Vandy have lots in common

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Joe Biddle

As the college football season debuts in days, in-state rivals Tennessee and Vanderbilt share one thing in common.
They both have a lot of work to do before teeing it up.
Second year Vols Coach Butch Jones has more on his plate, as 51 players on the roster are in their first and second years. Jones has said it feels like an expansion team. That alone qualifies the Vols as one of the youngest teams in the country.
Add to that, Jones must field both offensive and defensive lines. Everyone knows SEC games are often won, or lost, in the trenches.
Vanderbilt has a first year coach in Derek Mason, former Stanford defensive coordinator. He is trying to follow James Franklin, who authored back-to-back nine win seasons.
In comparison to Tennessee, Mason has 13 starters returning. They were part of a Vandy team that won nine games the past two years and went to three straight bowl games.
He will benefit from an outstanding recruiting class, many of whom were redshirted by Franklin. They should be ready to produce.
The Commodores’ top priority on offense is finding the right quarterback. They have six quarterbacks in camp and logic will tell you that is about three too many to split practice reps with.
Both Mason and Jones have had difficulty producing a meaningful depth chart at quarterback. Neither team has had a quarterback step up and claim the starting role in spring and early fall practice.
The Vols have to decide between Justin Worley, Nathan Peterman, Riley Ferguson and Joshua Dobbs. Worley is the most experienced quarterback, but he has been inconsistent and mistake prone.
Worley played in eight games last season, starting seven. He threw for 1,239 yards, completing 109 of 196 attempts for a 55.6 percent completion rate. Worley tossed 10 touchdown passes, but had eight interceptions.
As the Vols break in a new offensive line, the quartet of quarterbacks better take out life insurance policies. Given the inexperienced protection in front of them, perhaps the more mobile Dobbs would be the best choice to start.
Dobbs played in five games, with four starts. He was 72 of 121 passes with six interceptions. Dobbs had only two TD passes, but used his speed to gain 263 on 38 runs. He averaged 5.0 yards a run, averaging 39.8 yards a game.
It should come down to one of those two quarterbacks, but Riley Ferguson has a strong arm and only lacks experience.
At Vanderbilt, Mason must replace Austyn Carta-Samuels. Patton Robinette is the most experienced quarterback. He played in 10 games last season.
Robinette, from the high school power Maryville, completed 193 of 281 passes for 11 touchdowns against nine interceptions. His completions accounted for 2,268 yards and his completion percentage was an impressive 68.7 percent.
Robinette figures to be the starter on West End, but a new player may emerge from the six-pack.
Johnny McCrary is a 6-4, 230-pounder from Decatur, Ga. He is one of the redshirt freshman class and is a dual threat quarterback.
Wade Freebeck and Shawn Stankavage are two freshmen that project down the road. And Stephen Rivers, brother of San Diego Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers, graduated from LSU and is in graduate school at Vanderbilt and is eligible to play this season.
At 6-7, 235 pounds, Rivers has his brother’s physical attributes, but doesn’t have significant experience against SEC defenses.
So there are a lot more questions than answers on both campuses.
That’s why Derek Mason and Butch Jones earn the big money.
Contact Wilson Post Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at

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