In this March 9 photo, Tennessee wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni instructs players during practice in Knoxville. (AP Photo/Knoxville News Sentinel, Amy Smotherman Burgess)
KNOXVILLE — With less than two weeks remaining until the season opener, the status of Tennessee's passing attack remains up in the air.
Tennessee coach Butch Jones says he hasn't narrowed down the four-way quarterback competition. He also continues his search for consistent performers in an inexperienced receiving corps.
"We're still trying to establish who our playmakers are right now," Jones said.
Junior Justin Worley, the only candidate with any college playing experience, is competing with redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman and freshmen Joshua Dobbs and Riley Ferguson for the right to replace the departed Tyler Bray at quarterback. Worley made three starts in place of an injured Bray in 2011.
Although Worley has taken the majority of the first-team reps in portions of practice open to the media, Jones continually has said no quarterback has separated himself. Jones praised Ferguson on Friday. Peterman and Dobbs had nice moments in Saturday's open practice, with Peterman hitting Devrin Young for a completion of nearly 50 yards and Dobbs using his mobility to elude defenders.
"Every day they're coming to work with a lunch pail in hand, their hard hat on and they go about their business," offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian said. "They're not looking over their shoulder about who's behind them or where they should be or how the reps are being divided. They've been great in that regard. They just come to work and try to take advantage of their opportunities."
The quarterbacks say it won't be much of an inconvenience if the competition lasts until shortly before the Aug. 31 opener with Austin Peay.
"Everybody's gotten first-team reps," Worley said last week. "Everybody's getting the reps that they need in practice. Hopefully it doesn't go down that far just so the offense can start working with one guy or whatever, but it's (Jones') decision to make right now."
Peterman pretty much echoed those remarks. Dobbs and Ferguson haven't commented on the situation because the Vols don't make freshmen available to the media during training camp.
"I don't think it would make a difference to me," Peterman said. "I can only really speak for myself. I'm just going to give the best in whatever circumstance I'm put in and control what I can control."
The unsettled preseason quarterback situation isn't new for Jones.
While at Cincinnati last year, Jones named Munchie Legaux the starting quarterback nine days before the season opener. He then replaced Legaux with Brendon Kay in the ninth game of the season.
Cincinnati went on to finish 10-3 and win a share of the Big East title. That experience makes this staff comfortable with the way this competition has gone.
"They're all competing hard," said Bajakian, the Cincinnati offensive coordinator last season. "If they were all throwing interceptions left and right and not completing any balls, I'd be worried. But they're all competing. That's a good thing."
While the quarterback job remains up for grabs, Tennessee's pecking order at receiver has cleared up somewhat. The Vols are trying to replace first-round draft pick Cordarrelle Patterson and second-round selection Justin Hunter.
Receivers coach Zach Azzanni cited sophomore Alton "Pig" Howard and Young after Monday night's practice as players "you'll see out there quite a bit." Freshmen Marquez North and Josh Smith and redshirt freshman Jason Croom also have shown potential while injuries have limited other receivers.
But the competition in the receiving corps hasn't ended just yet.
"We're so young and inexperienced that it will be day to day," Azzanni said. "It really will. You have a good practice on a Tuesday, if you come out and bust your tail, you might jump somebody. There's nobody who's said, 'This is my spot' yet. That's just what it is."
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