Take the stereotypes you have about an SEC football player and throw them out the window when you meet Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs.
And be sure to call him Joshua, not Josh. That’s what he and his parents prefer. But he’s also okay with a lot of his new nicknames that have cropped up, though “Astro” (to form AstroDobbs) might be his favorite at this point.
Majoring in Aerospace Engineering with a minor in Business, Dobbs discussed his course load: Thermodynamics, Circuits, Physics, Matrix (Algebra), Management and Computer. That’s a total of 16 credit hours this semester on top of the full-time job that is SEC football in addition to the extra film study as a quarterback and continuing to work out and develop his frame, which he’s added 20 pounds to since he last played in 2013.
“He’s obviously very bright,” said offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian. “He’s ambitious in his schoolwork as an Engineering major, so he’s got a little extra load when you add all the labs and everything that goes with that. But he’s taken everything in stride and he always has. He’s a tough guy to rattle both on the field and off the field, so he’s managed to just keep going and focus on what’s important and go through his daily routine.”
“It’s fun,” Dobbs said of his his course load that would overland many standard college students, much less one with as many other pressures and obligations as the 6-foot-3, 216-pound sophomore quarterback who was named the SEC’s Offensive Player of the Week after his performance at South Carolina.
It’s definitely different and a bit unfathomable that he is able to balance it all. And so are the numbers that Dobbs has put up the last two weeks since becoming the primary quarterback for the Vols after Justin Worley suffered a torn labrum at Ole Miss. In less than two full games, he’s completed 42-of-72 passes for 493 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions, while adding 241 yards on the ground and three additional scores.
His 166 rushing yards at South Carolina were the most ever by a Tennessee quarterback in one game and the most by any Tennessee player in a single game this season. In less than 120 minutes of game time, he’s become UT’s second leading rusher on the season as well.
Not bad for a pro-style quarterback. That’s what he was recruited as coming out of Alpharetta (Ga.) High. Dobbs said he didn’t run at all his junior year of high school, and only took off “a little” during his senior season.
There were definitely flashes of his athleticism last year in his four-game stint as UT’s starter after injuries ravaged the quarterback position. He ran for 189 yards on 38 attempts and found the end zone once. In his two appearances this year, he already has 43 attempts for 241 yards and three touchdowns.
“I wouldn’t say I’m a runner,” Dobbs said. “I run when needed to. I run when there’s a play that needs to be made or people are covered downfield. I want to make a play, get the first down and get out of bounds, so I wouldn’t say (the coaches) push me to, obviously we’ve had some designed quarterback runs, which have helped out our offense, added another element, so they’ve done a good job of establishing good game plans over the past couple weeks and they’ll do a good job moving forward.”
And even when he doesn’t pull it down himself, he’s opened up the run game for the rest of the Vols. On the plays that Dobbs has been in the game over the past two contests, the Vols have piled up 505 rushing yards as a team. For context, that’s almost double how many yards they had against every other major-conference opponent this season – Oklahoma, Florida, Alabama and Ole Miss – combined.
“I think anytime you add the element of a running quarterback, that helps,” coach Butch Jones said.
Amazingly, Dobbs’ emergence this season almost never happened. After Dobbs admittedly needed to “tighten up” his mechanics and accuracy in fall camp and lost the race for the starting job to Worley, the coaching staff hoped to redshirt him – getting him back that extra year of eligibility he lost when he was thrown into action as a true freshman last year.
It again shows how Dobbs is different. Relegated to third on the depth chart, not even one snap away from playing earlier in the season, Dobbs kept studying – both in the classroom and in the film room. He prepared each day as if he would be the starter that week. He operated Tennessee’s scout team at times, preparing the Vols for the multitude of running quarterbacks they have encountered this season.
“My mindset was just to get better,” Dobbs said. “A lot of the scout team concepts are the concepts we have in our offense. My goal was just to get better, improve timing, improve some mechanics. I still treated those as serious reps – as game reps – and obviously it helped me out.”
Though national accolades are pouring in, he’s the clear-cut No. 1 quarterback and the Vols are trending towards a bowl for the first time since 2010, not much has changed for Dobbs. Sure, he gets recognized around campus a little more. He got a standing ovation in his Circuits class this week. But his different mindset – the way he prepared for each game as if he was a starter before all of this happened – prepared him for what his life looks like now.
“I wouldn’t say there’s a difference,” he said. “When I thought I was being redshirted, I still prepared as if I was the starter, so it’s the same. I was in the film room a lot, studying our opponent, studying our offense where I needed to get better, so my preparation has stayed the same, so I’d say it hasn’t been harder to find more time to study.”
He’s a different type of football player than what you’re likely used to, but the Vols are hoping he keeps delivering the same results.