Spring has finally sprung, and the April days of pads popping and voices booming out over Haslam Field have given way to the quieter beginnings of summer.
Tennessee was able to harness its late-season momentum that reached its zenith with a bowl game beat down of Iowa and used it to springboard into spring practice with a purpose. After weeks of analyzing and evaluating his team, Butch Jones knows he has plenty to work on this summer, but there are some units that have him smiling heading into the offseason.
Quarterback is undoubtedly one of those position groups. Josh Dobbs, who started the last five games of the season in place of the injured Justin Worley, has evolved into “the guy” in the locker room, one who players are confident in and feed off of as he settles into a leadership role. Dobbs proved he can start in the SEC with nine touchdowns and a 130.51 efficiency rating last year. Now the rising junior is working to improve his intangibles as he starts his first offseason as the man in charge of the Vols.
“He really worked to correct some of the deficiencies that he’s had in terms of accuracy and throwing mechanics,” Jones said. “It’s mastering the imperfect quarterback fundamentals: low snaps, throwing wet balls, awkward body position throws and just the overall command of the offense. We thought he gained some valuable experience but also some valuable confidence with the way he ended the season.”
Dobbs has already earned the title of unequivocal team CEO. In practice he has no qualms running over to a different position group to offer a nugget of advice or let a receiver know when he ran the wrong route or didn’t make a play. With the addition of Mike DeBord, whose experience in the NFL has helped further Dobbs' development in mechanics and reads, Tennessee is most confident in its starting signal caller.
“Our players view him as our leader,” Jones said. “I also think he benefited greatly from the knowledge of Mike DeBord and the knowledge Mike has brought to our offense and the quarterback position, so I thought Josh had a very productive offseason and a very productive spring football as well.”
Dobbs is one of the many reasons why Tennessee has been scattered along the bottom of most preseason Top 25 polls that give fans something to argue about in the long summer months. He's also a major factor in the SEC East darkhorse rumblings that have hit the radio airways and preseason magazines. The Alpharetta, Ga., native's growth in downfield throwing accuracy, scramble ability and arm strength are enormous confidence boosters to Jones and the offense, especially as the coaching staff continues to tinker with the offensive line rotation.
It’s been almost ten years since the Vols have experienced the kind of hype and media adulation that was once expected annually in Knoxville. Dobbs, Jones and company are not shying away from those expectations, but they know there's still plenty to do before Tennessee can confidently claim its place back in the national spotlight.
“That’s what you want,” Jones said. “You want the expectations because this is a very proud football program, but we also understand we have a long, long way to go to developing our program.”