Key spring practices give Vols' quarterback Dobbs a chance to refine his game

Key spring practices give Vols' quarterback Dobbs a chance to refine his game

March 22nd, 2016 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

Tennessee quarterback Josh Dobbs drills during a March 8 practice. Dobbs is looking to develop synchronicity with his receivers during spring practices.

Photo by Patrick Brown /Times Free Press.

Stat line

Josh Dobbs has improved every year he’s been at Tennessee. Here are his year-by-year stats:

› 2015: 205-of-344 passing, 2,291 yards, 15 TDs, 5 INTs; 146 rushes, 671 yards, 11 TDs.

› 2014: 112-of-177 passing, 1,206 yards, 9 TDs, 6 INTs; 104 rushes, 469 yards, 8 TDs.

› 2013: 72-of-121 passing, 695 yards, 2 TDs, 6 INTs; 38 rushes, 189 yards, 1 TD.

Did you know?

Tennessee senior-to-be QB Josh Dobbs is one of just three SEC players in the past 20 years to throw for 300 yards and rush for 100 yards in the same game. He achieved the feat on Nov. 1, 2014 in a 45-42 OT win at South Carolina, and on Oct. 10, 2015 in a 38-31 victory against then-No. 19 Georgia. The other two? Heisman Trophy winners Johnny Manziel and Tim Tebow.

KNOXVILLE — Tennessee quarterback Josh Dobbs spent his spring break last week in California with teammates Todd Kelly Jr. and Sheriron Jones on a trip that included visits to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Catalina Island.

Today it's back to business for Dobbs and the rest of the Volunteers.

Tennessee resumes spring practice this afternoon after last week's break followed a three-practice opening week.

For Dobbs this spring is a chance for him to fine-tune his passing ability and his leadership heading into his senior season.

"(It's) coming out on the field and demanding more of my teammates," he said after the first practice. "I set a high expectation in knowing what I do and how I play, but my teammates, they obviously sense that and feel that. I want them to get better just as much as I want to get better, so I've got to demand that out of them all spring and then into fall camp."

Since Dobbs took over as the starter a little more than halfway through the 2014 season, Tennessee is 13-5.

It's fair to wonder where the program might be had its then-new coaching staff not flipped the Atlanta-area native from his commitment to Arizona State to complete the 2013 signing class. What many people, from those in the program to fans and national pundits, wonder is if Dobbs can make enough strides as a passer this offseason to take Tennessee over the precipice to elite status.

Working hard never has been an issue for Dobbs.

"We've been working with him in the skill development, like we have with all of our quarterbacks," offensive coordinator Mike DeBord said earlier this month. "We've really been trying to break down the technique part of that position and make him better, just like we are with all of our players. He's had great focus, as have all of the quarterbacks."

Dobbs' focus may have been diverted slightly earlier this offseason when he flirted with the idea of joining Tennessee's baseball team. A baseball star in high school, Dobbs worked out twice with Dave Serrano's club. He said football coach Butch Jones was open to the idea.

But the dual-threat quarterback becoming a dual-sport athlete didn't transpire.

"It was conversation we had coming in with recruiting," Dobbs said of his conversations with Jones. "We both had the same mindset: Just go out, work out with them and see where it goes. From the jump, we both knew the mindset's on football and being here and competing and getting better for the spring.

"It was all able to work out, I enjoyed my time and I'm glad to be back on the football field."

That's where it's imperative this spring that Dobbs solidifies his connection with veteran Josh Smith and develops a rapport with some of the young wide receivers.

The absence of Josh Malone means more snaps and repetitions for a quartet of underclassmen. Preston Williams and Jauan Jennings are sophomores poised for bigger roles. Vincent Perry is back from his knee injury, and junior college transfer Jeff George enrolled early.

Williams had one of the best debut weeks of any player. The former five-star recruit looks much looser and relaxed than last season, when he was coming off a serious knee injury and became eligible just in time for the season opener. There's a chance he could become a premier playmaker for Tennessee.

Jennings navigated some ups and downs, but his toughness and desire to be a star are undeniable.

Perry is still returning to full health from knee surgery and a tweaked hamstring, and George is a rail-thin target with gangly arms and a 6-foot-6 frame.

"Obviously in the offseason you can do only so many routes on air, but getting a chance to get one-on-ones, get 7-on-7 (periods), get team reps to work on timing and passing and rhythm — it's definitely big, especially with those guys," Dobbs said. "I'm really excited to see what type of spring they're going to have."

The same can be said for Dobbs in his quest to become a better quarterback.

"I focus on everything," he said. "That's the great thing about being a quarterback. There's always something to improve on, so the goal is just to improve every day. There's always different things you can do to get better, so I'm trying to take that all in and continue to get better."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.