Published August 07, 2016
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee believes its passing game is good enough to complement an exceptional running game.
Now it's just a matter of proving it.
''We have to do a better job of catching the ball as an entire offensive unit and putting the ball where it needs to be as well,'' Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. ''I do see progress. We've worked very hard on it all summer, and we worked hard on it in this stage of the game in training camp through five practices.''
Tennessee should be able to run the ball against just about anyone. Jalen Hurd, Alvin Kamara and quarterback Joshua Dobbs are all back after combining for 2,657 yards rushing and 30 touchdowns last season. But the Volunteers must pass effectively to keep defenses honest.
Dobbs has 22 career starts to lead all active Southeastern Conference quarterbacks, and many of his receivers were highly touted recruits.
But that hasn't translated to a consistently potent passing game. Tennessee ranked 64th among Football Bowl Subdivision teams last season in passing efficiency. Dobbs completed 59.6 percent of his passes, down from 63.3 percent in 2014.
Dobbs said improving his accuracy has been a major point of emphasis as he prepares for his senior season.
''You look at statistics and everything, and a great completion percentage in the SEC is 65 percent and an extraordinary one is 70 percent, so that's what we're aiming for,'' Dobbs said. ''Every ball you throw, you throw with a purpose. At the end of the day, you want to take care of the football and get the ball in the playmakers' hands.''
First the Vols need to identify the playmakers on offense aside from Dobbs, Hurd and Kamara. The receiving corps still has plenty of questions after being decimated by injuries last season.
Tennessee's top returning wideout is junior Josh Malone, who caught 31 passes for 405 yards and two touchdowns last season. The Vols also return junior Josh Smith, who had 23 catches for 307 yards and two scores.
The Vols ought to get more production from sophomores Preston Williams and Jauan Jennings. Williams, a former five-star recruit, wasn't declared eligible last year until late August and spent the rest of the season playing catchup. Jennings started six games at receiver last season even though the former high school quarterback was learning a new position.
Jason Croom moved over from wide receiver to tight end and has seemed to adapt well to the switch. Croom, who redshirted last season with a knee injury, should team up with returning starter Ethan Wolf to provide multiple options at the tight end spot.
''This year's group, we've got more veterans and we've got guys who've been here, so we can show the younger guys and bring them along faster than we could in the past,'' Malone said. ''I'm pretty sure back a couple of years ago you all were still calling us a young wide receiver corps, and the next year we were still a young wide receiving corps. So this year I guess you can say we're a veteran receiving corps.''
Not necessarily. Although Smith and Malone give the Vols a couple of experienced wideouts, Tennessee also has plenty of newcomers. The group includes junior-college transfer Jeff George plus freshmen Tyler Byrd, Marquez Callaway, Brandon Johnson and Latrell Williams.
Tennessee may need some of them to contribute immediately.
''You can see they love football and they want to make an impact now,'' Dobbs said. ''That's exactly what we need from them. They're going to have to step up and make some plays this year for us.''
AP college football site: http://collegefootball.ap.org