Dobbs, Tennessee exit spring practice amid high expectations
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs understands what's at stake in his senior season.
He made that point clear Saturday after being announced at halftime of the Orange & White Game as one of four permanent team captains for the 2016 season. Each of the captains - Dobbs, running back Alvin Kamara, linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin and cornerback Cam Sutton - gave brief speeches after being introduced.
''We're trying to do whatever it takes to get back to Tampa,'' Dobbs told the announced Neyland Stadium crowd of 67,027.
Tampa is the annual site of the Outback Bowl, where Tennessee ended its 2015 season with a 45-6 blowout of Northwestern. It also is the location of the next College Football Playoff championship game.
Tennessee believes it has a realistic chance of getting there after going 9-4 last year and closing the season with a six-game winning streak. Whether the Volunteers actually play their way into contention depends in part on Dobbs, whose 22 career starts are the most of any active Southeastern Conference quarterback.
''We understand we have a lot of talent on this team and we can be as good as we want to be,'' Dobbs said after the spring game. ''The goal for us is just take it day by day, focus on the process and embrace the grind.''
Dobbs was 5 of 9 for 116 yards Saturday. One of his passes was intercepted by Todd Kelly Jr. after being dropped by Jason Croom, who moved from wide receiver to tight end this spring. Dobbs also had a 57-yard completion to tight end Ethan Wolf and a 22-yard connection with Preston Williams that set up John Kelly's 4-yard touchdown run.
Because of injuries elsewhere in the receiving corps, the only three scholarship wideouts available Saturday were Williams, Jeff George and Cody Blanc.
The injury situation prevented spring practice from offering much indication on whether Dobbs has improved his accuracy. His completion percentage dipped from .633 in 2014 to .596 last season.
''I thought we threw the ball fairly well today,'' Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. ''We've had too many drops. I don't look at completion percentage because that's a lying stat because there's so much that goes into it. Sometimes a quarterback throws the ball away on third down, and that's a great play. I don't look at that. I look at efficiency, pass efficiency. Are we doing the right things? Did the quarterbacks take care of the football? Are they managing the game? Are they making good decisions with the football?''
Jones said about 24 players sat out the spring game as Tennessee tried to keep its talent-laden roster as healthy as possible. The Vols' top two returning rushers - Jalen Hurd and Kamara - combined for only 13 carries Saturday and often were ruled ''down'' as soon as any defender touched them.
Kelly led all rushers with 65 yards on 15 carries. Williams had three catches for a game-high 77 yards receiving and was named the team's most improved offensive player of the spring. Defensive tackle Danny O'Brien was named the team's most improved defensive player.
The game pitted the offense against the defense, with the defense representing the Orange and the offense wearing White. The Orange team won 70-63 based on a scoring system that awarded each unit points for notable accomplishments
Before the game, former South Carolina and Florida coach Steve Spurrier was recognized as the winner of the Neyland Trophy, an award given annually by the Knoxville Quarterback Club to a major contributor to college athletics. Spurrier went to high school in Johnson City, Tennessee, before giving the Vols fits throughout his playing and coaching career. Spurrier received mostly cheers from the Tennessee crowd.
The Knoxville Quarterback Club also gave Brent Musburger its Lindsey Nelson Broadcasting Award on Saturday.
Tennessee's players received a halftime pep talk from Allen Iverson, less than two weeks after the former Philadelphia 76ers star was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame.
AP college football site: http://collegefootball.ap.org