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VOL. 132 | NO. 40 | Friday, February 24, 2017

Dobbs Makes His Stand to Join NFL Roster

BY DAVID CLIMER, Nashville Sports Correspondent

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Josh Dobbs has spent the last four years preparing for a future in aerospace engineering. For now, though, that career is still on the runway. First, he’s hoping to take flight in the NFL. After establishing himself as one of the most productive quarterbacks in University of Tennessee history, Dobbs isn’t ready to give up on football. It remains to be seen if football is ready to give up on him.

Former Vols quarterback Josh Dobbs made an impression on NFL coaches and scouts in Senior Bowl practices and the game, providing himself with some momentum as the NFL Draft approaches. He wants a pro football career before pursuing a career in the aerospace industry.

(Photo By Ruth Dudley/Tennessee Athletics)

Dobbs has committed himself to making an NFL roster, whether it is via the draft in April or free agency. He’s going about it the way you would expect: full-throttle. He may be a rocket scientist, but he’s taking a blue-collar approach to the game he loves.

“I want football,” he said during an interview at the Senior Bowl. “I want to play the game. It is great. I love it.”

Questions remain about his NFL potential. Although he improved markedly as a passer in his senior season, particularly on deep throws, he never developed a feel for the nuances of the passing game. Too often, he locked in on one side of the field, ignoring receivers that had worked free elsewhere.

Part of that was due to the offense he directed at UT. It lacked creativity on intermediate and downfield routes. Another thing to consider is that Dobbs never had a full-time quarterback coach. It was only after the 2016 season that Butch Jones realigned his coaching staff and created the position of quarterback coach, hiring Mike Canales.

Looking back, you have to wonder how much more advanced Dobbs would be in the passing game if he had worked with a hands-on quarterback coach for four years.

But Dobbs has no regrets. He penned a farewell letter to UT fans that included these thoughts:

“It’s pretty clear. If you are dedicated, and put in the time and effort, you can accomplish anything – even complete a game-winning Hail Mary with no time left on the clock. You taught me that, Tennessee, and I thank you.”

Pretty classy move, huh?

He views his college days at UT as a means toward two ends – the NFL first, then the aerospace industry.

“I definitely wanted to go to school and major in something that I enjoyed and loved and can make a career out of after I finish playing the game of football,” he said. “But football is my next profession and I am excited about that and I want to make the most of it.”

Over the next few months, we’ll see if he can make it in the pro game. As he prepares for the NFL Combine, opinions on his pro future vary wildly. One mock draft had Dobbs going to Cleveland with the first pick of the second round. That’s silly. There are too many questions about his upside to be drafted that high.

But I’ve come around to the idea that he will be drafted, perhaps in the fifth round or so, and that he actually does have a future in the NFL.

Browns coach Hue Jackson worked with Dobbs at the Senior Bowl and came away impressed.

“I thought Josh Dobbs did extremely well,” Jackson said. “He completes the ball. He is athletic and he has a good arm. He throws the ball extremely well. I was a little surprised at how well he threw the ball.”

Dobbs used the pre-Senior Bowl practices to showcase his skills to coaches and general managers from all 32 NFL teams. He also made it clear that he wants to continue to play the game.

Dobbs started for the South team at the Senior Bowl and completed 12 of 15 passes for 104 yards in a little more than a quarter. The interception came when an offensive lineman was pushed into Dobbs as he was in his throwing motion.

Dobbs should benefit from the success last season of former Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott. Prescott, a fourth-round pick, replaced the injured Tony Romo and led Dallas to a 13-3 record in his rookie season.

Prescott was a dual-threat quarterback at Mississippi State. Like Dobbs, there were questions about his feel for the passing game. He quickly answered those questions. Now it’s Dobbs’ turn.

Even if the NFL doesn’t work out for him, Dobbs should be appreciated as the finest dual-threat quarterback in Vols football history.

Maybe we should make that triple-threat quarterback. In addition to 53 touchdown passes and 32 TD runs, he had two scoring receptions. Only Peyton Manning, who had 101 total touchdowns, had more TDs in UT history than Dobbs’ 87.

Another stat worth noting: Dobbs joins Prescott and Tim Tebow as the only SEC quarterbacks to have multiple seasons with 15 or more passing touchdowns and 10 or more TD runs.

He saved his best for last. Dobbs completed 63 percent of his passes for 2,946 yards and 27 touchdowns as a senior. He also ran 150 times for 831 yards and 12 TDs, breaking the school records for rushing yards and rushing touchdowns by a quarterback.

So, where does Dobbs rank among all-time Tennessee quarterbacks? I’ve seen them all since the Vols abandoned the single wing upon Doug Dickey’s arrival as coach in 1964. Here is my top 10:

Peyton Manning: The numbers don’t lie. Nor does the record. The only things he didn’t win were a game against Florida and the Heisman Trophy. He was the first overall pick in the 1998 NFL draft and is a sure first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Heath Shuler: Forget that he was a bust in the NFL. Shuler completed 61 percent of his passes and was a beast on the pass/run option. You wonder if things might have ended differently he had come back for his senior season in 1994.

Casey Clausen: He didn’t have the strongest arm but he got the job done. Plus, he was a combined 5-3 against Florida and Alabama. He wasn’t nicknamed “The Ice Man” for nothing.

Josh Dobbs: He is the greatest dual-threat quarterback in Vols history, and it’s not even close. There were times he simply took over games. Don’t underestimate his impact on helping turn around the program.

Condredge Holloway: Mere numbers don’t tell the story of Holloway’s impact on Vols football. He was an electrifying player. And he also broke the color barrier for SEC quarterbacks.

Tee Martin: Peyton Manning was a tough act to follow, but Martin did it in style. He could run and throw. He also led the Vols to the 1998 national championship.

Tony Robinson: With all due respect to those that came before and after, Robinson had the greatest arm of any quarterback in UT history. He could make every throw. His college career ended with an ACL injury at Alabama and personal issues followed.

Andy Kelly: He sometimes gets overlooked but Kelly was an efficient, productive quarterback in some high-powered offenses. He went 25-4-2 as a starter in 1989-91.

Jeff Francis: Another great player who is sometimes overlooked, Francis lit it up in 1986-88, a period when UT’s defense often struggled. He threw for 300-plus yards against Alabama in 1986 and ’87.

Erik Ainge: He deserves great credit for coming back from a disastrous sophomore season in 2005 to star for the Vols in ’06 and ’07.

Depending on your point of view, other UT quarterbacks could break into the top 10. Tyler Bray had a great arm and put up big numbers but was wildly unpredictable, on and off the field. Alan Cockrell had his career cut short by a knee injury and then opted for pro baseball in 1984.

There are more: Dewey Warren could fling it and had a gunslinger’s attitude in an era (1965-67) when the running game was emphasized. Bobby Scott went 20-3 as a starter in 1969-70. Long before Dobbs, Jimmy Streater was a dual-threat talent. In 1978, he threw for 1,418 yards and ran for 593 more.

Reach David Climer at dclimer1018@yahoo.com and on Twitter @DavidClimer.

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