KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Josh Dobbs is a smart guy. He knows the questions are coming.
Has Tennessee improved its downfield passing game in 2016?
“The passing game is all about timing and rhythm,” the Volunteers senior quarterback said Sunday.
“It’s about (everyone) being on the same page: protections, running backs, receivers, tight ends. A lot goes into that. We’ve put a lot of time throughout the spring, winter, offseason, summer. We’ve made a lot of strides. … We’ve improved overall as an offensive unit.”
Dobbs’ savviness shines through, disarming the question without ever truly answering anything.
But the answers should come soon enough.
The No. 9 Volunteers open the season against Appalachian State on Thursday (7:30 p.m., SEC Network), a formidable test for folks still curious if Tennessee will produce a more explosive aerial attack. The Mountaineers ranked No. 14 nationally in passing defense in 2015 — one spot behind Florida.
While players and coaches swear the passing game as improved, Tennessee hasn’t shown it yet. The Vols rarely went over the top of the defense last season, as they were tied for ninth in the SEC in passing plays over 20 yards. Heck, lowly Kentucky and South Carolina completed more downfield passes than Tennessee.
The Volunteers have the weapons to challenge opponents on the outside. They believe the offensive line is ready to shoulder the load.
But Tennessee must allow Dobbs more opportunities to push the ball downfield.
The Vols ran the football over 66 percent of the time on first down in 2015. The losses to Oklahoma and Florida could be chalked up to offensive predictability as much as defensive lapses.
A simple solution? Incorporating more play-action or bootlegs for Dobbs on early downs.
Dobbs doesn’t like to divulge much of anything during press conferences, filibustering a later passing game question with, “I’m trying to get better in all aspects of my game. I’m trying to position us to get better in all aspects. Run game, pass game, anything that we can do to be a more successful offense.
“You guys keep asking the same questions and the same answers are given, so you can keep asking them.”
Ultimately, they’ll stop when Tennessee proves it can truly challenge teams downfield.
Jesse Simonton covers Tennessee football and recruiting for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and SECCountry.com