There are reasons to be optimistic about the passing game for Tennessee in 2016.
Quarterback Joshua Dobbs is entering the equivalent of his third year as the full-time starter and there’s solid depth behind him.
The Vols have a quartet of talented, semi- experienced receivers in Josh Smith, Josh Malone, Preston Williams and Jauan Jennings, in addition to a handful of younger players who have breakout potential. A veteran offensive line is in place to protect the QB and a second-year offensive coordinator should help everybody take a step forward.
But at least during Saturday’s practice/scrimmage, Butch Jones didn’t love where the Vols were in what he calls the “throw game.”
“We had way too many dropped footballs,” Jones said Saturday afternoon. “We have to be able to execute better in the throw game and that’ll be a point of emphasis as we close out spring football.”
So what’s the issue? A little bit of everything, and as Jones pointed out, the passing game is an intricate process that needs everything to click in order to function as it should.
A certain amount of dysfunction should be expected in the spring, especially with the high volume of injuries the Vols are putting up with, but getting all these pieces to work properly could be the difference in UT being good or great in 2016.
“It’s a combination of a lot of things,” he said. “It may be a pass-protection breakdown, a missed assignment or flat-out losing your one-on-one – it’s not just the offensive line, it could be a back, it could be a tight end. The thing I saw [Saturday] was a combination. Everybody is one out of 11. One time it’s a dropped ball, one time it’s a missed pass protection and that starts to accumulate, so we have to do a much better job of protecting the quarterback and catching the ball on the perimeter as well.”
Jones’ goal for improvement in the passing game is fairly lofty based on last year’s production.
Tennessee completed 59.3% of its passes in 2015, but the head coach is looking for an improvement as high as 10% going forward, all the while mixing up when they throw the ball as well.
“We did a great job on third down last year, but we want to throw drop-back pass again on first down,” Jones said. “That’s kind of one of the changes offensively, more drop-back on 1st and 10 and what we call mixed downs. You know, when we throw the football, we have to be 65-70% in terms of completion percentage.”