KNOXVILLE -- Josh Dobbs stuck his head into the Tennessee offensive line's meeting room Tuesday afternoon.
The freshman quarterback politely interrupted line coach Don Mahoney with a message for the Volunteers' veteran unit, a group that's played much more football than he has.
Let right tackle Ja'Wuan James, a senior who's started every game of his Tennessee career, take it from there.
"He came to us as an offensive line and just talked to us and said, 'I believe in y'all,' and he feels comfortable going out there and playing behind the best offensive line in the country," James recalled after the Vols practiced later Tuesday.
"I was surprised," James added. "It takes a lot of confidence and what belief he has in us for him to do that. He came into our meeting room while we were in meetings and asked Coach Mo to hold off for a second -- he wanted to say something.
"That takes a lot of guts, and I like that about him."
After making his debut in the second half at top-ranked Alabama in relief of the injured Justin Worley last Saturday, Dobbs will start for Tennessee when the Vols visit 10th-ranked Missouri on Saturday night in Columbia.
Worley, the Vols' starter for the past four games, underwent surgery to repair torn ligaments in his thumb on Tuesday and is out indefinitely. With fellow true freshman Riley Ferguson hobbled by a leg injury and redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman still recovering from his own thumb surgery in September, Dobbs is the only healthy quarterback on Tennessee's roster.
Against the Crimson Tide, Dobbs completed only five of his 12 passes for 75 yards, Johnathon Johnson and Josh Smith dropped passes. Dobbs also ran for 19 yards when he kept the ball, and his running ability best suits Tennessee's zone-read option scheme.
"It was pretty exciting to see him do the things that he was doing on the field for that short period of time," said right guard Zach Fulton, "so it does give us a little bit more confidence seeing that he did what he did on the field."
Unlike when the Vols tabbed Peterman to make his first start at Florida last month, Dobbs will have a full week of first-team repetitions in addition to the experience he got at Alabama, though entering in the third quarter of a 35-0 game is much different than starting one.
"It'll be a great challenge for him in a great venue versus a great opponent, but I know that he's looking forward to that," head coach Butch Jones said.
"I think the live repetitions -- the live game reps that he received last week -- were very, very beneficial to him in moving forward, but now to have the amount of the first-team reps will be big. Everyone asks with a freshman quarterback, do you have to scale your offensive package down and your game plan, and it's quite the contrary.
"We can actually do some more things in terms of our schemes with the quarterback and some different things."
Ask any Tennessee player or coach about Dobbs, and they'll always point to how smart he is. The aeronautical engineering major quickly picked up Tennessee's offensive system in the offseason and appeared to change some plays at the line of scrimmage against Alabama.
Multiple teammates said Tuesday they weren't surprised by what Dobbs showed against the Tide.
"He's going to bring something new to the table," receiver Pig Howard said.
"He brings it every day," said tailback Marlin Lane. "He's out there every day after practice, before practice, working with Worley, Coach Jake [offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian], going through all the progressions. I knew once he got in, it wasn't no downfall with the offense."
For the second season out of three, three different quarterbacks will start for Tennessee. Worley replaced the benched Matt Simms for three starts in 2011 after Simms replaced Tyler Bray, who broke his thumb on the helmet of a Georgia defender and missed five games.
Worley hit his hand on the helmet of a South Carolina player two weeks ago, and during the second quarter against Alabama he popped his hand on Tide defensive end Adrian Hubbard's helmet on the first of his two interceptions.
Coach Jones said Worley suffered "pretty much the same" injury as Peterman, who returned to practice Tuesday with a glove on his right hand but couldn't take a snap from under center. He added he's never seen a thumb injury like the one he's seen twice this season in his first 26 years of coaching.
"The big thing for Josh in moving forward," Jones said, "is he doesn't have to win the football game. Just manage the game for us and take it one snap at a time. I'm excited for his opportunity."
So are some of his teammates.
"I like how he's confident," James said, "and I like how he approached today."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.