Joshua Dobbs spent most of his first two years at Tennessee stuck behind Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman. The only guy in front of him this year will be the Vols’ starting center, waiting to snap him the ball.
Dobbs opened the 2013 season as the No. 4 quarterback behind Worley, Peterman and fellow freshman Riley Ferguson — assuming the top job in November only because the other three were hurt. Dobbs opened the 2014 season as the No. 3 quarterback behind Worley and Peterman — assuming the top job in November only because Worley was hurt and Peterman was ineffective.
Now that Worley and Peterman are no longer in front of him and three freshmen (Quinten Dormady, Sheriron Jones, Jauan Jennings) are all that’s behind him, Dobbs has a lock on the first-team quarterback job. Following two failed attempts to redshirt Dobbs, Tennessee now finds itself handing him the keys to the executive washroom.
“Josh Dobbs … we want a CEO quarterback,” head coach Butch Jones said during Monday’s pre-spring practice news conference. “What does that mean? We want him to own the football team. We want him to take accountability for everything with our football team and with our offense.”
Dobbs started the last four games of 2013 and the last five games of 2014, going 1-3 in the former, 4-1 in the latter. His progress from Year 1 to Year 2 was obvious last November, when he led the Vols to 45 points in a Game 9 defeat of South Carolina, 50 points in a Game 10 defeat of Kentucky and 45 points in a TaxSlayer Bowl defeat of Iowa.
As Dobbs’ production has expanded, however, so has his job description.
“For Josh to continue to move forward he has to continue to work on making his quarterback fundamentals perfect quarterback fundamentals – throwing of wet balls, (overcoming) bad snaps, different things where a play breaks down,” Jones said. “I think the next phase of Joshua Dobbs is learning how to run with the football.”
This a guy who led the 2014 Vols in rushing touchdowns (8), ranked second in rushing yards (469) and second in yards per carry (4.5) among players with at least 15 attempts. Clearly, he already knows how to run effectively. His challenge is learning how to run safely … not exposing himself to unnecessary hits.
The key, Jones said, is “not abusing his skill of being able to run the football … taking care of his throwing shoulder.”
To underscore Dobbs’ value to the Vol attack, new offensive coordinator Mike DeBord has been preaching a simple message over and over and over: “Touchdown, first down, get down.”
As Jones put it: “Protect yourself. There’s a skill to being able to run the football. We’ve talked to Josh, and Josh has worked exceptionally hard.”
Dobbs worked hard in 2013 and 2014, even though he was getting third-team practice repetitions and apparently headed for a redshirt year each season. Now that he’s the unquestioned first-teamer, he’ll get most of the first-team practice reps. That should intensify his focus and accelerate his development dramatically. And, by working with the other first-teamers, he’ll develop a timing and chemistry with them that was lacking in 2013 and 2014.
“Our players view him as their leader, and he’s really grown,” Jones said. “He’s grown leaps and bounds – from being very vocal, from a leadership (perspective), but also setting the standard.”
Dobbs’ commitment to excellence has grown, along with his status. As Jones noted: “There’s many a night where I look out and think ‘What the heck is going on?’ The lights are on in the indoor (practice facility) and it’s Josh, a bag of footballs and (target) nets.”
|CAMERON SUTTON, JOSHUA DOBBS|
If Dobbs’ passing skills ever catch up to his running skills, he could be something truly special. The new offensive coordinator is striving to close that gap.
“I think Coach DeBord has really helped him, in terms of some throwing mechanics he’s been able to point out on video,” Jones said, “and Josh being able to do it (practice) on his own (is a plus).”
Tennessee is getting a lot of hype for 2015, with one national writer predicting a Sugar Bowl bid. All of the optimism is based on the assumption that Joshua Dobbs will have an injury-free season at quarterback. If the Vols must turn to a freshman QB, the season could turn ugly. That’s why developing a dependable backup among the three rookies is vital. Dormady and Jennings get a big head start by enrolling at mid-term and participating in spring practice.
“When Sheriron Jones gets here in June that’s going to be a great battle,” Butch Jones said. “I think Quinten has done a very, very good job of (exhibiting) all of the quarterback intangibles. He’s worked exceptionally hard. Jauan has done a good job, as well, but I think Jauan’s a little bit behind in terms of the quarterback intangibles. He’s a great athlete – very driven, very competitive – so I think he’ll continue to progress.”
If Tennessee is to contend for the SEC East title, however, it will need a healthy and productive season from Dobbs. He appears determined to deliver one. Asked how the Josh Dobbs of 2015 is different from the Josh Dobbs of 2014, Jones answered without hesitation.
“Confidence. Driven. He’s experienced some success, and he understands what’s out there,” the coach said. “He’s just got that different look in his eye. He’s leading the others. He’s not setting the example; he’s leading vocally. He’s been very demanding. He set up all of the offseason throwing on his own, so he’s really taken ownership in that position.”
After two seasons as the backup plan, Joshua Dobbs enters 2015 as The Man.
The challenge: Can The Man become the CEO?