Staff tweaked, Joshua Dobbs streaked

InsideTennessee provides the best coverage of Vol football available on The Internet. Check out this behind-the-scenes look at an adjustment to Tennessee's offense that helped quarterback Joshua Dobbs develop into a star:

Watching one errant practice throw after another last fall, Tennessee coaches realized that Joshua Dobbs would never be another Peyton Manning. So they tweaked the offense and produced another Tee Martin.

“I hate to say this but he (Dobbs) is one of those kids that, when it’s all live and people are coming up the field to kill him, he’s really good at improvising and making plays,” Vol passing game coordinator Zach Azzanni told InsideTennesseee. “So how do we get him better in the pass game? We put in some play-action things off our runs that benefit how he throws the football.”

Once they recognized that Dobbs operates better on the move than standing still, Tennessee’s coaches revamped their attack to exploit this knack. Result? He led the Vols to a 4-1 finish last season — putting up 45 points each against South Carolina and Iowa, and hanging half a hundred on Kentucky.

“He’s not your typical drop-back passer who throws 18-yard comeback routes,” Azzanni said. “That’s not his game. For us to keep trying to do that would be silly.

“To get him to be more efficient in the pass game, we tied it in more with our running game — using play-action stuff because there’s the threat of run with him back there. That really helped him, and opened up our pass game, too.”

Dobbs’ emergence as a dual-threat quarterback eased the pressure on a patchwork offensive line that allowed Justin Worley to be sacked 29 times in Tennessee’s first seven games. Conversely, Dobbs was sacked just 12 times in six games, with half of those coming against a rugged Missouri pass rush. Clearly, his mobility is invaluable.

“It really is nice,” said left tackle Kyler Kerbyson, the guy entrusted with protecting Dobbs’ blind side. “Him being able to escape the pocket and juke out some defenders really helps us with our blocks. I’m in pass pro (protection) three or four seconds, and that’s all I need because he’s getting rid of the ball or he’s running.”

Dobbs’ running skills are a key reason he is on preseason watch lists for two quarterbacking honors (Manning Award, Davey O'Brien Award) and the Maxwell Award, honoring college football's player of the year. His mobility went unrecognized his first year and a half on campus, however, because Vol quarterbacks are ruled down in practice whenever a defender touches them.

“Coach (Butch) Jones likes to call sacks if a defensive lineman touches his hip but you know Dobbs: He’s a little squirmier than that,” Kerbyson said. “He’d get out of that. I like the fact he’s a running guy. He makes my job a lot easier.”

Dobbs’ progress has continued on a steady trajectory, even with Mike DeBord succeeding Mike Bajakian as offensive coordinator last spring.

“He has a lot of passion, and you could see it from when he first showed up,” Dobbs said of DeBord. “He came in the film room with a lot of passion, and it’s great to have that – a coach who sparks you, and you also provide a spark for him. It’s definitely great to have a very passionate coach.”

DeBord is especially passionate about Tennessee’s junior quarterback, whose sharp mind is just as advantageous as his quick feet.

“I knew he was smart the first time I talked to him,” DeBord said. “We started talking football, and I knew he loved football. The little things we’ve worked on with his mechanics he’s corrected faster than anybody I’ve ever been around.”

Having coached Tom Brady at Michigan, DeBord sees the same type of poise in Dobbs.

“I love his level of confidence and his disposition,” the coordinator said. “He’s the same guy all the time. He doesn’t come in low, doesn’t come in high. He’s even-keel all the time, and I love that about him. I feel like we’ve got a great relationship, and I look forward to the season with him.”

DeBord also is impressed with Dobbs’ dedication.

Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs
(Danny Parker/InsideTennessee.com)

“He’s like all of the guys that are good: They have a great focus and great disposition about ‘em,” the Vol aide said. “The guys who become great quarterbacks are alike in the way they study the game, the way they are with their teammates, their leadership and all of that. Josh is one of those guys.”

Dobbs played in just six games (five starts) last fall but produced some imposing numbers — a 63.3 completion percentage, a 130.51 efficiency rating and an average of 201.0 passing yards per game. He also led the Vols in rushing touchdowns (8), while ranking second in rushing yards (469) and third in yards per carry (4.5). He should be even better now that he has developed chemistry and timing with his offensive teammates.

“Experience helps anyone,” Dobbs said. “If you have a full year under your belt and start games as they did, it obviously is going to help in recognizing different things. They’re on the same page with me, and that showed throughout the spring. This is an offense that’s going to play with an even faster tempo and be even more explosive.”

In addition to being more polished, Dobbs is more assertive coming off his big finish in 2014.

“He went out there and won us some football games, so he carries some clout now,” Azzanni said. “He has that confidence now to get on someone’s tail if he needs to, and they respect him and listen to him.

“Another difference is the volume of plays we can put in for him. We can put more install on him, and he’s able to handle it because he’s a very smart kid.”

Because he provides a passing threat, a running threat, a sharp mind, leadership and poise, Joshua Dobbs might be more valuable to his team than any player in the entire SEC. At least one Vol cornerback thinks so.

“He’s one of our leaders on the team and he controls the offense,” Cameron Sutton told IT. “Without him, they can’t function. They can’t run anything without him. They’re all centered around him. He’s what makes those guys go.”

Receiver Josh Smith agrees that Dobbs is invaluable.

“He’s taking command, being that CEO of the offense,” Smith said. “His leadership is building. I think Coach Jones has really dug deep into Dobbs about that. I think Dobbs is just taking it and running with it.”

Since Tennessee tweaked its offense last fall, he’s running with it, all right.


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