Vols expect Worley at full strength for Florida

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee expects to have quarterback Justin Worley at full strength for Saturday's game with Florida.

The status of Worley's receiving corps is less clear.

Worley sat out three series of the Volunteers' 35-32 loss at Georgia last week when Bulldogs linebacker Jordan Jenkins' helmet hit him in the elbow during a pass rush, but the senior quarterback returned to direct two fourth-quarter touchdown drives.

"He's fine," Tennessee coach Butch Jones said Monday. "He kind of hit his funny bone and all that, but he's fine. He'll be 100 percent for the game."

Jones isn't as sure about wide receivers Von Pearson and Josh Smith, who both have high ankle sprains.

Pearson has missed Tennessee's last two games, while Smith sat out the Georgia game. Pearson has seven catches for 98 yards and a touchdown. Smith has 10 catches for 135 yards and a touchdown.

"I'll know a little bit more as the week progresses, but right now I'd say Von is ahead of Josh in terms of recovery," Jones said.

In other injury news, freshman reserve linebacker Dillon Bates has a torn labrum that will require season-ending surgery. Jones said the Vols will seek a medical redshirt for Bates. Jones indicated freshmen Cortez McDowell and Jakob Johnson could have bigger roles in Bates' absence.

The Vols need a healthy Worley against Florida, which has won the last nine games in this series. Jones called Florida "as talented as any team we have faced all year," a strong statement for a coach who has faced No. 4 Oklahoma and No. 13 Georgia in his last two games.

Worley was relieved that he avoided the type of significant injury that wrecked his 2013 season. Worley missed Tennessee's final four games last year to undergo surgery on his right thumb.

"I was just hoping and praying that it wasn't another major injury," Worley said after the Georgia game. "Thankfully it wasn't, and thankfully I got to go back out there and play a little bit."

Worley has emerged as one of the SEC's most improved players. Worley entered his senior year with 11 career touchdown passes and 13 interceptions. He has nine touchdown passes and three interceptions this season while playing behind an offensive line that has allowed 12 sacks, the most in the SEC.

"I like his aggressiveness," Jones said. "We talk to our football team about being assertive in their decision-making process, and I think he's been exceptionally assertive in what he's been able to do."

Worley has needed to be resourceful in distributing the ball with Pearson and Smith out. Freshman Josh Malone caught five passes for 45 yards Saturday in his first career start. Sophomore Jason Croom had a career-high four catches for 60 yards and a touchdown.

"Jason Croom stepped up and made some big time plays for us at critical stages of the game," Jones said. "Josh Malone had five catches, did a great job of catch and advance. We had individuals step up ... but it's going to be great at some point to get (Pearson and Smith) back."

NOTES: Tennessee is attempting to "checker" the Neyland Stadium stands Saturday by having entire sections wear either white or orange. Tennessee officials say fans can check www.utsports.com or www.checkerneyland.com to find out which color they should wear. Saturday's game is sold out. ... Jones said that "in a perfect world," he'd like to redshirt sophomore quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who started four games in place of an injured Worley last season. Sophomore Nathan Peterman played quarterback Saturday when Worley was hurt. ... Tennessee linebacker A.J. Johnson wasn't impressed with his 17-tackle performance against Georgia because he said he relied too much on emotion and got away from using the proper technique and playing within the system. "It was probably one of my worst games," Johnson said.

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