In a conference loaded with inexperience at quarterback, Tennessee is one of the few SEC teams that boasts a returning veteran under center.
Josh Dobbs’ presence is one reason why the Volunteers enter the season as the favorites to win the SEC East for the first time in nearly a decade. But how does the overall QB position shape up in Knoxville?
2015 in review: Dobbs (205 for 344, 2,291 yards, 15 touchdowns, 5 interceptions, plus 671 rushing yards and 11 TDs) started every game and brought a run-pass threat to Tennessee’s offense that made the Vols difficult to stop. Dobbs passed for 312 yards and ran for 118 in the comeback win against Georgia, marking the second time in his career he’s had a 300-passing-100-rushing game. He is one of only three SEC quarterbacks ever to achieve a 300-100 game.
What’s the buzz? “It’s a great lesson to younger players of staying the course throughout the course of a long season. His freshman year, he wasn’t on the road trip when we played Florida, and then a couple weeks later he’s the starting quarterback. And so he’s got vast experience, vast knowledge, he’s seen it all. So, again, he continues to be a student of the game and has leadership. It’s a great luxury to have.” -- Coach Butch Jones on Dobbs’ career
Key weapons: Tennessee’s running game will once again excel with Jalen Hurd (1,288 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns) and the versatile Alvin Kamara (698 rushing yards, 291 receiving) both back. The passing game is more difficult to assess because of the inconsistency among Dobbs’ receivers and his occasional struggles at delivering them the ball. Wideouts Josh Malone (31 catches, 405 yards, two touchdowns), Josh Smith (23-307, 2 TDs), Jauan Jennings (14-149) and Preston Williams (7-158, 2 TDs) return, as do tight ends Ethan Wolf (23-301, 2 TDs) and Jason Croom, a converted wideout. They also have a star in the making in freshman wideout Tyler Byrd, the No. 35 overall prospect and No. 1 athlete on the 2016 ESPN 300.
What to watch: Accuracy is the big question with Dobbs. Two SEC opponents (Florida and Missouri) held him to fewer than 100 passing yards last season, and legitimate questions remain over whether he can complete clutch passes against the better defenses on Tennessee’s schedule. If he can improve his consistency as a passer, nobody in the East has a better chance than Tennessee of playing in Atlanta in early December.
Next in line: So long as Dobbs stays healthy, the pecking order behind him will not matter until 2017. But sophomore Quinten Dormady (13-for-22 for 209 yards, 1 TD) figures to be the leading candidate to back up the senior this season. Sheriron Jones and promising freshman Jarrett Guarantano -- the No. 101 overall prospect on the 2016 ESPN 300 and No. 4 dual-threat quarterback -- will also battle for snaps in the future.
Grade: B-plus. Dobbs was arguably the SEC’s best running quarterback last season -- yes, better than even Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott -- and he will be once again this fall. But will he improve as a passer? If he does, Tennessee will get an A here at season’s end.