THIBODAUX — Like at most Southeastern Conference schools, playing quarterback at Tennessee isn’t for the timid.
Every quarterback for the Volunteers since Peyton Manning will be compared to Peyton Manning for … ever.
But junior Joshua Dobbs hasn’t shied away from the comparisons, or the chance to learn at the cleats of one of the NFL’s premier quarterbacks whenever he can as he tries to lead Tennessee back to contender status in the perennial rugged SEC.
“It’s been awesome,” Dobbs said of his relationship with Manning on Friday during a break at the Manning Passing Academy. “Peyton has been back to Tennessee several times in the offseason, for the spring game. He came in a couple of weeks ago to throw with us and we got to watch film with him. To see his overall approach is great.”
Dobbs has used his time here to help check off the things he wants to improve for this fall.
“That’s how it is every offseason,” he said. “I list the things I need to improve on. Every time I step on the field, it’s with a purpose. It’s been a very productive offseason for me.”
Dobbs’ confident air is a microcosm of the attitude and expectations that pervade the Tennessee program going into the 2015 season.
Replacing an injured Justin Worley against Alabama, Dobbs started the Vols’ final five games.
With him running the show, a previously sluggish Tennessee offense took off.
The Vols went 4-1 with Dobbs starting, averaging 36.7 points and 431 yards per game. Dobbs went 112 of 177 passing for 1,206 yards with nine touchdowns and six interceptions.
He was also the Vols’ second-leading rusher with 104 carries for 469 yards and eight TDs.
The late-season surge allowed Tennessee to finish 7-6 (3-5 in the SEC). The Vols weren’t any sort of threat to reach the College Football Playoff, but it gave victory-starved Tennessee fans reason to hope even bigger things are ahead in 2015.
The Vols are a trendy dark horse pick to win the SEC East over rebuilding Florida, perennial power Georgia and two-time reigning division champion Missouri. The downside is faltering under potentially crushing expectations, but Dobbs is insistent that Tennessee is not going to be trampled by them.
“We talk about it all the time,” he said. “As a team, we don’t feel external pressure. There’s only the pressure we put on ourselves to be great. We’ve worked hard. We know what it takes to get there. Our team has matured a lot, and it’s good to have so many good players who played as freshmen last year. Now they’re sophomores and have had some real-game reps.”
Tennessee opens the season Sept. 5 against Bowling Green, at LP Field in Nashville, Tennessee. A huge test follows a week later at home against Oklahoma, with the Vols’ SEC opener Sept. 26 at Florida.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.