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Front Page - Friday, December 23, 2016

Dobbs’ change of heart a great gift to Vol fans

Quarterback Josh Dobbs helped bring fellow recruits and, untimately, a return to relevance for the Tennessee football program when he switched his commitment from Arizona State four years ago. - Ruth Dudley/Tennessee Athletics/UTsports.com

In the spirit of the holiday season, Joshua Dobbs is the gift that keeps on giving.

Despite all the disappointments of 2016 for Tennessee football, it would be a mistake not to appreciate Dobbs for what he is: a scholar, an athlete, a leader, a role model and a winner.

After four losses in the last seven games, it is natural for many Vols fans to dwell on the negative. And that’s fair. But in doing so, don’t forget to appreciate what Dobbs has done for this program over the last four years.

The Vols are 22-12 with Dobbs as the starter, which makes him sixth in career victories among UT quarterbacks. Peyton Manning is the all-time winningest Vols quarterback at 39.

Dobbs has made the best of some bad situations. Of all the quarterbacks at UT over the last quarter century, Dobbs stepped into one of the toughest situations when he was named starter for the final four games of his freshman season.

The only ones who might have had it worse were Jonathan Crompton in 2008 (Phillip Fulmer’s last year as coach) and Tyler Bray in ’10 (Derek Dooley’s first season).

The legacy Dobbs will leave includes some selfless acts that had nothing to do with football. In the aftermath of the devastating wildfires in the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge areas, Dobbs made a road trip to support those affected.

And it wasn’t a surprise. That’s the kind of young man he is.

I suspect Tennessee fans will miss Dobbs more than they expect. He is not easily replaced as a player, a leader and an inspiration.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Do not discount the importance of Dobbs’ 11th-hour decision to sign with Tennessee instead of Arizona State in the winter of 2013 on the turnaround of Vols football. He has proven to be a key component in Butch Jones’ first recruiting class along with Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Cameron Sutton, among others.

Despite some rough spots in his freshman and sophomore seasons, Dobbs wound up being the right quarterback at the right time for Tennessee. His mobility and surprising acceleration make him a good fit for Jones’ offense. Likewise, he has proven to be an above-average passer who has gotten better with experience and hard work.

Beyond that, don’t overlook all the intangibles he brings to the position. Dobbs is an unquestioned leader. He plays through pain. He doesn’t make excuses.

“He’s the guy that makes this offense go. That’s where it starts,” says Mike DeBord, UT offensive coordinator, who has worked with Dobbs the last two years.

In our rush-to-comment world of Twitter, Instagram and message board posts, we tend to spend too much time critiquing the things Dobbs doesn’t do well instead of celebrating his strengths. Yes, Vols sophomore Quinten Dormady has a stronger arm. Freshman Jarrett Guarantano may be a better overall athlete with potentially more upside.

Try as he might, Dobbs just isn’t a classic pocket passer like Manning or, to a much lesser degree, Erik Ainge. Often, he doesn’t set his feet and step into his throws. His accuracy is a concern. He doesn’t throw a great deep ball, although we’ve seen a few nice rainbows this season.

Likewise, he has been known to lock in on one side of the field and/or one receiver, which sometimes leads to throwing into coverage. That’s when the bulk of his interceptions occur.

In short, there are reasons you don’t see Dobbs’ name on any of those top 10 lists of quarterbacks in NFL mock drafts. He has the size and toughness NFL teams are looking for, but he just doesn’t have the arm or the feel for the downfield passing game.

He’ll have a chance to audition for NFL scouts in January when he participates in the Senior Bowl. Somebody likely will spend a late-round draft pick on him just to see how he can handle a pro offense.

But his real future is in the aerospace industry, not in the NFL. I think he’s just fine with that. He arrived at UT as a true student-athlete. He’ll leave the same way. His career goals go far, far beyond the NFL.

But that doesn’t mean he isn’t an accomplished college quarterback. Of the 13 games where a UT quarterback has accounted for more than 400 yards in combined running and passing, Dobbs has four of them – South Carolina in 2014, Georgia in ’15 and Texas A&M and Missouri this season. He stopped at 399 yards in the conquest of Florida and at 393 against Vanderbilt this year.

All told, he has 8,889 yards of total offense. That makes him just the fourth UT quarterback to compile more than 8,000 yards in a career. The others: Manning, Casey Clausen and Ainge.

Dobbs has rushed for 100 or more yards five times in his UT career. The last time the Vols had a true run/pass threat at quarterback was Tee Martin in 1998-99. But Martin didn’t run nearly as often or as effectively as Dobbs.

Now he has one college game remaining – the Franklin American Music City Bowl against Nebraska. While the season has been disappointing for UT, Dobbs can exit with his head held high. His body of work speaks for itself.

Enjoy him while you’ve got him, Vols fans. He’s one of a kind.  

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