Wiedmer: Vols' Dobbs displays dual skills

Wiedmer: Vols' Dobbs displays dual skills

April 13th, 2014 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Josh Dobbs

Photo by The Knoxville News Sentinel /Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE - Josh Dobbs for the Heisman.

OK, it's a little early. Heck, it's not even the preseason. But when was the last time a Tennessee quarterback looked as good as the rising sophomore Dobbs in Saturday's Orange and White game?

The kid didn't just show off his aerospace engineering skills by delivering a perfectly programmed 49-yard scoring missile into the waiting arms of freshman wideout Josh Malone. Dobbs also ran 59 yards for a touchdown. Then, just to prove those first-quarter scores were no flukes, he ended the third period with a 79-yard touchdown pass to Malone after tossing a 16-yard TD to Justus Pickett in the second period.

Given that his second TD pass to the magnificent Malone came on the heals of fellow QB Riley Ferguson's outstanding scoring throw to Cody Blanc, it was almost as if Dodds was proclaiming, "Anything you can do, I can do better. I can do everything better than you."

Put another way, were you to give former Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young both an accurate arm and a clue, you would have some idea of the performance Dobbs turned in against his admittedly less than defensive teammates. But in this age of increasingly complex and aggressive defenses, any quarterback who can move the football by both land and air would appear tough to keep out of the lineup.

Not that second-year UT head coach Butch Jones seemed the least bit interested in naming a starting quarterback for the season opener against dangerous Utah State on Aug. 31.

"No timetable," he replied when asked when he might make a final decision among senior Justin Worley, redshirt sophomore Nathan Peterman, redshirt freshman Ferguson and Dobbs.

But he did say: "[Josh] really stepped it up today, particularly in the quarterback challenge [a series of drills to highlight QB skills]. He made plays with his legs. He's very calm. Very cerebral. He took a step forward today."

Cynics might justifiably argue that at least a portion of Dobbs' -- and the rest of the offense's -- success in this 129-100, Stableford-style scoring system victory over the defense was due to a second-team defense that seemed as invisible as much of the generously estimated crowd of 68,548 inside Neyland Stadium.

"Very concerned by what I see defensively," Jones said. "Very disappointed. We have to be a much better tackling football team in a hurry."

Added senior defensive back Justin Coleman: "Tackling has always been an issue [with this team]. Just bringing a guy down has been a problem."

Few truer words have ever been spoken. And as good as some of the Volunteers' offensive weapons may be, they don't figure to be anywhere near the best in the Southeastern Conference. So if this defense can't handle UT's offense, what's it going to do against Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and such, not to mention that Sept. 13 trip to Oklahoma?

Yet it's also true that the defense won't play every snap come the real season. It will have rest. It also will have a healthy crop of gifted freshmen not yet on campus.

"This has to be the best summer program we've ever had as a coaching staff," Jones said, his thoughts presumably with his defenseless "D," especially the reserves.

Yet that shouldn't take away from Dobbs, though Worley's stats against the starting "D" -- 11-of-13 for 151 yards and one score with 55 rushing yards -- were arguably as impressive.

"I don't know where that person came from, breaking tackles like he's a running back," senior defensive back Justin Coleman said of Dobbs.

"Josh commands a great presence in the huddle," noted redshirt senior offensive tackle Jacob Gilliam. "He gets us in and out of plays fast. And he shocked us on that run today. He was breaking tackles left and right."

And that was after he dropped the football at the start of that jaunt.

Befitting his coach's description of Dobbs as cerebral and calm, the Georgia native didn't say much about his 199 passing yards and three touchdowns on six completions. Or that he was the only QB to avoid a sack. Or that his 59 rushing yards in two carries trailed only freshman running back Jalen Hurd's 66 yards on the ground.

"I had a productive day," he said. "But it was a productive day for us as a [quarterbacks] unit. We've done a great job of growing from practice to practice."

But Jones said this, theoretically not of Dobbs specifically but certainly of the coach's general goals for his offense.

"Be able to throw the football, make people miss in space," he said. "That's what our offense is all about."

Among UT's four returning quarterbacks, Dobbs has best shown the ability to do both with equal aplomb.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com