Tennessee spring practice preview: Quarterbacks

Tennessee spring practice preview: Quarterbacks

March 15th, 2015 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs (11) looks for an open receiver while playing Kentucky in this file photo.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE -- With Tennessee nearing the start of spring practice on March 25, the Times Free Press will take a position-by-position look at the Volunteers as they return to the practice field to continue preparations for the 2015 season, Butch Jones's third as coach. The preview begins today with the quarterbacks and continues Monday with the running backs.

WHO'S BACK

* Josh Dobbs (Jr.): In the final six games of 2014, Dobbs went from a redshirting third-stringer to starter and flourished as he averaged 279 yards of offense, accounted for 17 total touchdowns (nine passing, eight rushing) and recorded a 4-1 record as Tennessee's starting quarterback.

WHO'S GONE

* Justin Worley, who was 7-7 as the starter the past two seasons, had his senior season cut short by a torn labrum in 2014.

* Nathan Peterman was Worley's backup and started against Alabama before giving way to Dobbs two series into the game, but he transferred to Pittsburgh after completing his degree in December.

Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley eludes Arkansas State's Charleston Girley for a touchdown.

Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley eludes Arkansas State's Charleston...

Photo by Angela Lewis Foster /Times Free Press.

Blackman quarterback Jauan Jennings, a 6-foot-4, 187-pound dual-threat quarterback, threw for 2,155 yards with 22 touchdowns and three interceptions this past year. He also rushed for more than 800 yards with 17 rushing touchdowns.

Blackman quarterback Jauan Jennings, a 6-foot-4, 187-pound dual-threat...

Photo by The Tennessean /Times Free Press.

WHO'S NEW

* Quinten Dormady, a four-star recruit out of Texas

* Jauan Jennings, another four-star dual-threat quarterback from Murfreesboro

WHO'S COMING

* Sheriron Jones, the third quarterback Tennessee added in its 2015 class and a four-star dual-threat prospect out of California, will arrive for the summer.

DID YOU KNOW?

Dobbs became the first player in program history to throw for 300 yards and rush for 100 yards in the same game in Tennessee's comeback overtime win at South Carolina last November. His 467 yards were the fourth-most for a single game in program history. Tyler Bray has the record with 530 yards against Troy in 2012, and Peyton Manning, with 508 yards at Kentucky in 1997 and 475 yards against Florida in 1996, holds the second and third spots.

KEY QUESTION

Who wins the backup quarterback battle? It's going to be one of the three true freshmen the Vols signed in this class, and Dormady and Jennings will get the first crack at it this spring before Jones joins the mix.

Though he resumed throwing only last month after dealing with a shoulder injury, Dormady is the favorite to take the lead in the competition into the summer, because he's more polished than Jennings, who's made impressive strides as a quarterback over the course of the last year. Both should get plenty of opportunities this spring.

Tennessee used three different starters due to injuries in each of the last two seasons, and while there's no competition for the starting job this offseason like there's been the last two, the Vols realize the importance of identifying and sufficiently preparing Dobbs' backup.

"The sleepless nights have not ended, because we've got to find a No. 2 and a No. 3 quarterback," Coach Jones said last month. "It's a very unusual situation, but that's where we're at. I'm excited about the growth and maturation process so far of the younger quarterbacks."

ONE TO WATCH

The freshman quarterbacks aren't the reason Tennessee is receiving some offseason hype. It's Dobbs, who saved last season by jumpstarting an offense that was stuck in neutral with his ability to run, extend plays with his mobility and throw more accurately in games than in practice.

In five games as a freshman in 2013, Dobbs averaged just 139 passing yards and 37.8 rushing yards per game and tossed six interceptions with just two touchdown passes and one touchdown run. In six games in 2014, though, he averaged 201 passing yards and 78 rushing yards, threw for seven more touchdowns and ran for for seven more touchdowns than the year before.

Dobbs will need to get stronger to improve his durability for what will be his first full season as an SEC starting quarterback, and he'll need to continue improving as a passer, particularly well down the field.

Before Tennessee's bowl win, Dobbs said he felt he had much more ownership of the offense in 2014 than as a freshman, and he's stepped into the spotlight as the face of the program. There seems to be little concern he'll be able to handle that role. If Dobbs is able to push his play to an elite level, it could help the Vols meet next season's elevated expectations.

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.