There aren’t a ton of mysteries surrounding Tennessee’s run game. Virtually all the pieces that had a historic season in 2015 return this year, poised for another highly productive season.
And knowing that the run game will be a strength relieves a fair amount of pressure on the rest of the offense, but the passing game still needs to progress in 2016 if Tennessee is going to live up to some of its lofty preseason expectations.
Butch Jones acknowledged that he’s seeing progress from the group, but knows there’s still plenty of work to be done.
“I’ve been very pleased with the wide receiver group as a corp,” Jones said following Saturday’s practice/scrimmage. “A lot of these individuals are coming out and they’re working everyday. I think Jauan Jennings has made tremendous strides, Preston Williams has made tremendous strides, we just talked about Vincent Perry (progressing). Obviously Josh Smith is kind of the elder statesman of the group. Josh Malone is now working to get back into it – he’s finally able to catch football now, so you can see that group progressing.”
For a coaching staff that has said in the past that it likes to have 8-10 players in the wide receiver rotation, there needs to be more help, however. And Tennessee got some of that this spring with the addition of Jeff George, a rangy 6-foot-6 junior college transfer from Dodge City Community College.
In terms of quantity, however, the help truly comes over the summer with four incoming freshmen set to join the roster at the position: Marquez Callaway, Corey Henderson, Latrell Williams and Brandon Johnson.
“But it’s also a position that we’re going to have to rely on some true freshmen,” Jones said. “I think Jeff George – you know he’s making the transition (from junior college) – and you can start to see the game slow down for him a little bit, which is good.”
Jones also likes what he’s seen this spring from quarterback Joshua Dobbs, though the vertical passing game is still a work in progress after the Vols came in 10th in the conference last season in yards per catch (7.0 ypc). The Vols were also 11th in the league in completions over 40 yards with just five all season long.
“We’ve really challenged him from an accuracy standpoint, and I thought he did a good job,” Jones said of Dobbs. “One element we have to continue on as a football team is our overall progression of being able to throw and catch the deep ball.”