Josh Dobbs, Tennessee’s newly named starting quarterback, stepped out of the quarterbacks meeting room this week and walked down the hallway to where the offensive line was meeting.
His message, according to coach Butch Jones? “I need you, and we’re going to get this done.”
More than anything else, Dobbs needs the veteran offensive line to keep him safe when the Vols (4-3, 1-3 SEC) play No. 10 Missouri (7-1, 3-1) on Saturday (TV: ESPN, 7 p.m.) at Faurot Field in Columbia, Mo.
Coaches are excited by the prospect of adding a new dimension to the offense — Dobbs’ ability to run. But they also must be cautious. Starter Justin Worley is out indefinitely after surgery this week on his thumb. Redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman appears to be at least another week away from being ready. True freshman Riley Ferguson, the only other scholarship quarterback on the roster, has battled a foot injury (although Jones has said it’s not serious).
After Dobbs, the choices are slim. The Vols must plan for even seemingly unlikely possibilities: What happens if Dobbs gets his helmet knocked off and must, by rule, leave the game for one play? Do the Vols burn Ferguson’s redshirt for that one snap? Is there an emergency option at the ready? What if it’s a crucial snap?
“I don’t think you can ever play scared, no matter what position you’re in,” said Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian on Wednesday. “We’re going out to win the game. That’s the goal. We’re not going to keep any bullets in the gun.”
Coaches have gushed about Dobbs’ poise since he entered Tennessee’s game at No. 1 Alabama in the second half last Saturday. So his charisma with teammates isn’t surprising.
“I didn’t know (Dobbs planned to address the offensive linemen). But I’m not surprised, either,” said Bajakian. “That’s the kind of guy he is and that’s the presence he has.”
At the same time, coaches are perhaps less giddy than fans who expect a rejuvenated offense to accompany Dobbs’ ascension.
The Vols are going on the road against a top-10 team with a solid defense with a true freshman quarterback who has all of five career completions to his name.
Asked about Dobbs’ performance during his one half in the 45-10 loss at Alabama, Bajakian was circumspect.
“As is always the case, there are positives and negatives, things he could improve upon and things he did well,” Bajakian said. “He’s come a long way since he arrived on campus, since our first practice. There’s stuff we identified in the course of the game that he could improve upon and he’ll continue to work on. But overall he handled the situation well. We’re looking forward to how he’ll handle this game that he’s starting.”
Jones said he’s told Dobbs that he doesn’t need to win the game, just manage it.
He offered similar advice to Worley, and the Vols’ offense was at its best when Worley — and his receivers — were making the routine plays while avoiding turnovers at all costs.
Now the stage belongs to the true freshman.
“He started at ground zero and now I feel he has a great grasp of the offense,” Bajakian said. “We’re going to use his skill set to our advantage.”
Follow Evan Woodbery at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.