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

KNOXVILLE -- Thanks to the constant grind that comes with being Tennessee's football coach, Butch Jones hardly gets much sleep anyway.

At least these days he's not losing sleep wondering who his starting quarterback will be next season.

For the first time since Jones took over after the 2012 season, the Volunteers enter the offseason settled at the most important position on the field, with rising junior Josh Dobbs locked in as Tennessee's starter after the past two offseasons included quarterback competitions.

How Dobbs played down the stretch last fall is a big reason the Vols finished the 2014 season with a flourish and thus triggered the elevated amount of hype and expectations for 2015, and he'll arguably having the biggest hand in determining if Tennessee will continue to rise as a program.

"We need him to take that next step," Jones told the Times Free Press on Thursday morning. "Josh is a very prideful young man. He takes great pride in his performance, pride in his preparation. I've seen a little bit different spark in his eye. I've seen a little more determination.

"You're going to see Josh continue to mature, continue to develop."

Another midseason injury to starter Justin Worley opened the door for Dobbs to come in as the starter, and after a rough go of it as a freshman in 2013, Dobbs, the third-string option at one point, flourished to finish last season.

In five games as a starter, Dobbs posted a 4-1 record, averaged 279 yards of offense, passed for nine touchdowns and ran for eight. He nearly single-handedly turned around Tennessee's sputtering offense with his ability to run and extend plays. It culminated with an MVP performance in Tennessee's TaxSlayer Bowl win.

Of course, Dobbs dodged the meatiest part of Tennessee's 2014 schedule apart from making his debut against then-No. 4 Alabama and eventual SEC East Division winner Missouri, though he faced three top-10 teams during his freshman cameo.

There certainly are areas where Dobbs can improve this offseason and heading next month into spring practice, his first with new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike DeBord. Jones wants him to continue improving his passing accuracy, on deep passes and the more routine throws, developing his leadership and adding to his 6-foot-3, 216-pound frame to prepare for the grind of his first full season.

"We have to take great strides in the overall accuracy and the deep ball," Jones said. "There's an art, there's a science, there's a difference in being able to execute and throw the deep ball.

"And I think his overall command presence of the offense. You're always constantly evolving in leadership roles. His leadership needs to evolve each and every day -- holding other teammates accountable, holding himself accountable -- which I think he does a great job of."

Jones provided a recent example of Dobbs' increased determination.

"He's in the indoor (facility) at night with the music on with the nets, working on his accuracy," Jones said. "Coach DeBord came in here and one day was meeting with him and talking about the things he saw in his mechanics. Josh has taken that to heart, and he's really worked exceptionally hard on that.

"He also needs to get bigger. He needs to get stronger, because now we're going to be asking him to go through a full football season. He's never went through a full football season, so that's the next challenge for him in moving forward, from the mental grind of a long football season but also the physical grind of a long football season as well."

If Dobbs ultimately can't make it through next season, the Vols would be forced into playing one of a trio of true freshmen: Quinten Dormady, Jauan Jennings or Sheriron Jones.

Coach Jones readily admitted that scenario is keeping him up at night, but he doesn't seem overly worried about his starter taking the steps necessary to take the Vols up another level.

"It obviously benefits having Josh Dobbs," he said. "Josh has been a staple of consistency. He's been great for our younger players, particularly our younger quarterbacks. His work ethic has really, really picked up this offseason. You can see the confidence that he gained from last year.

"But the sleepless nights have not ended, because we've got to find a No. 2 and a No. 3 quarterback, and 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 right now, and Josh is helping that."

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