Tennessee head coach Butch Jones yells at his players in the third quarter of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013 in Knoxville, Tenn. Vanderbilt beat Tennessee 14-10. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee coach Butch Jones says all positions are up for grabs as the Volunteers head into the offseason.
That includes the quarterback spot, where Tennessee started three different players this year.
It's "all even, starting from ground zero," Jones said Thursday. "Every position is all even, starting at ground zero. You're responsible for creating your football identity. Because some individuals may have had success in the past, that doesn't guarantee them success in the future. You have to earn everything that you get. It's by a body of work over time. That position, just like every other position, will be up for competition."
Jones said quarterback Justin Worley has resumed throwing after missing Tennessee's last four games with an injured right thumb that required surgery. Worley completed 55.6 percent of his passes for 1,239 yards with 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions, and he led Tennessee to a 4-3 record in his seven starts.
Joshua Dobbs replaced Worley in the last four games and completed 59.5 percent of his passes for 695 yards with two touchdowns and six interceptions. Dobbs also rushed for 189 yards and a touchdown on 38 carries. Tennessee went 1-3 in his four starts.
Nathan Peterman started a 31-17 loss to Florida before injuring his throwing hand. He played as a backup in two other games and finished the season 10 of 23 for 45 yards with two interceptions.
The Vols also have Riley Ferguson, who redshirted as a freshman this fall while dealing with leg injury. Jones said all four candidates would enter this competition on equal footing.
Jones is trying to make the offseason as competitive as possible for a program that has endured four straight losing seasons, the first time that's happened at Tennessee since 1903-06. Tennessee went 5-7 in Jones' debut season while facing a schedule that included five top-10 teams: No. 2 Auburn, No. 3 Alabama, No. 8 South Carolina, No. 9 Missouri and No. 10 Oregon.
He already has divided his roster into five separate groups that will compete over which of them does a better job of conditioning over winter break.
"We are going to compete this offseason in everything that we do," Jones said. "We may even race to the drinking fountain, (have) a competition of who can keep their locker the cleanest. Who can be the best leader? We are going to compete in everything that we do and try and create stressful situations because that is when you really find out about leadership."
Jones says he couldn't remember ever being more excited about an offseason. He's looking forward to the arrival of a highly touted recruiting class that's expected to include 14 early enrollees.
Tennessee will need that infusion of talent to restock a roster that must replace its entire starting offensive and defensive lines from the 2013 season. Jones emphasized the need to improve overall team speed as well as upgrading the strength of the players and the depth of the roster.
Jones also provided evidence that the program is making progress, even if the Vols' record this season didn't necessarily reflect that. Jones cited Tennessee's attendance increase this season and noted that 40 players posted grade point averages of 3.0 or higher during the fall semester. Tennessee's team GPA this semester was its second-highest in the last decade.
"I think we have taken some great strides, monumental strides," Jones said. "But we are nowhere near where we need to be. Losing is not an option. It will not be tolerated here at Tennessee. There are steps in the process. I've spoken about it the entire year - we have to focus on the process. We are still going through that process. There are no quick fixes. I think we all know that."