Now Dobbs has a chance to prove it.
Dobbs will make his first career start while trying to lead Tennessee (4-4, 1-3 SEC) to its first road win over a ranked opponent since 2006 on Saturday when the Volunteers visit No. 10 Missouri (7-1, 3-1). Dobbs replaces junior Justin Worley, who is out indefinitely after undergoing surgery this week on his injured right thumb.
Dobbs hasn’t spoken publicly about his new role because Tennessee doesn’t make freshmen available to the media. But his teammates say they have no doubt he’s ready. They’ve marveled at the poise Dobbs has shown since arriving on campus.
“He’s the most square dude,” senior offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James said. “He’s just, I don’t want to say perfect, but there’s nothing really bad about the kid. He shows up every day to go to work. He’s great in school, as everybody knows. He’s a smart kid.”
Dobbs, a graduate of Alpharetta (Ga.) High School, won the Watkins Award given annually by the National Alliance of African-American Athletes to a high school senior who combines academic and athletic excellence. He plans to major in aerospace engineering.
Dobbs proved smart enough to get a quick grasp of Tennessee’s offense even though he didn’t have the advantage of enrolling early enough to participate in spring practice.
“He came in this summer, and with the stuff he was knowing, it was like he was (here) in the spring,” sophomore wide receiver Alton “Pig” Howard said.
Dobbs’ achievements on the field and in the classroom caused Tennessee coach Butch Jones to pursue him. After being verbally committed to Arizona State for nearly eight months, Dobbs made a Signing Day switch to Tennessee.
“Josh is extremely intelligent, very cerebral,” Jones said. “His recall is outstanding. And then (he has) the ability to make plays. Great feet. I think what he does exceptionally well is he can make the anticipatory throws. He anticipates exceptionally well.”
Dobbs’ mobility gives Tennessee’s offense an element it lacked with Worley, who wasn’t much of a running threat.
He rushed for 419 yards and 10 touchdowns as well as throwing for 3,625 yards and 29 scores his senior year at Alpharetta. Dobbs ran for 19 yards on three carries last week after replacing Worley in the second half of a 45-10 loss to No. 1 Alabama. He also was 5 of 12 for 75 yards passing in the Alabama game.
Tennessee scored all 10 of its points after Dobbs entered the game.
“The thing I was real impressed with was his poise,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “You’re playing on the big stage there, and him doing the things he was doing and playing the way he’s been playing, I was real impressed with that.”
The Vols weren’t surprised that Dobbs never seemed intimidated or frightened while making his college debut against the two-time defending national champions on the road.
“If you know Josh at all, if you’ve been around him at all, that’s how he carries himself all the time,” offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian said. “He’s a very confident player and a very confident person.”
Dobbs showed that confidence already this week when he walked into the offensive line’s meeting room and told the senior-laden group that he believes in them and that he feels comfortable working behind them.
The content of his speech wasn’t surprising. Tennessee’s offensive line is regarded as the team’s greatest strength. But the fact that a freshman took the initiative to interrupt a meeting so he could give the offensive linemen a pep talk spoke volumes.
“That takes a lot of guts,” James said. “I like that about him.”
That kind of attitude helped Dobbs earn the respect of his teammates. Here comes his opportunity to reward their faith in him.