Tennessee returned to the football field Tuesday for the first practice of the spring. Noticeably absent from the group? Joshua Dobbs.
It had to be a little strange. Dobbs had taken part in the past three springs. He’d started 31 consecutive games at quarterback, and he played as big a role as anybody in changing the culture at Tennessee. The Volunteers were 14-18 in the 32 games before Dobbs made his first start as a freshman in 2013. In the final 31 games he started? They went 22-9.
“The great thing is we always talk about leaving a legacy. Josh has left a legacy,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. “A lot of it is how you prepare, the mindset, how you approach practice, and I could see that our other quarterbacks being with Josh Dobbs, that really has helped them.”
That’s just it, though. Dobbs doesn’t have another year of college eligibility remaining. Sorry, Vols fans, he’s not coming back. But his footprints will still be all over this 2017 team.
As the current players were walking into the indoor facility this week for practice, there were coaches from the Los Angeles Chargers working out Dobbs and some of the other Tennessee players hoping to play at the next level next season. The following day, it was Sean Payton and some New Orleans Saints coaches on campus to see Dobbs.
What better motivation is there than that?
Also this week, while Jones was in a staff meeting, the school’s sports-technology coordinator brought him a notebook Dobbs had used when he was a freshman. It was chock-full of detailed notes.
“Knowledge is power,” Jones said. “This is another great example in terms of not just on the field but off the field in how you prepare, how you take care of your body, how you study video, how you do the extra things. That’s part of his legacy that he will leave here.”
Now all quarterbacks are expected to write everything down and take in everything that’s said, just as Dobbs did when he was there.
And maybe that will be the best barometer of the impact Dobbs will have on next season's team. Most fans are a little uneasy that Tennessee has to start a new quarterback this fall. But let’s not forget that the players vying to replace Dobbs had the opportunity to learn and grow behind one of the SEC’s better and more experienced quarterbacks the past two seasons.
“There is a lot of excitement,” Jones said. “The first thing is it’s very unfair for any of us to ask them to be Josh Dobbs. Jarrett and Quinten, they’re different individuals. For us, we have to do a great job of playing to their skill sets.
“But they’ve been able to witness his work ethic, how he represented himself every single day, how he led, how he approached game day, how he approached practice. And I think the one thing that you can really take from him is just his consistency in performance, his consistency on a daily basis.”
Dormady served as Dobbs’ primary backup each of the past two seasons, and while Guarantano hasn’t even been on campus for a full year yet, he credited Dobbs this week for showing him how to get through the ups and downs of a season and become a better quarterback.
The time for both players is now, though, because Dobbs won’t be there in the fall. He’ll likely be busy playing on Sundays in the NFL.
But expectations remain high at Tennessee in large part because of the contributions made by Dobbs or by the likes of Derek Barnett or Cameron Sutton or Josh Malone. They helped pave the way to where a bowl game isn’t enough anymore. The goal now is to play for and win an SEC championship.