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Tennessee true freshman quarterback Josh Dobbs

KNOXVILLE - Josh Dobbs was Tennessee's starting quarterback last week at 10th-ranked Missouri.

The freshman didn't truly step into his new role, though, until Tuesday evening.

That's when Dobbs made his media debut and answered questions about everything from his performance in the Volunteers' 31-3 loss and his leadership skills to his class schedule and why he's majoring in aeronautical engineering.

"It's been fun being the quarterback," Tennessee's new starter said after practice with roughly 25 media members surrounding him.

"All eyes are always on you, so you have to make sure you're being smart and doing the right thing all the time."

Injuries to Justin Worley, Nathan Peterman and Riley Ferguson left the 6-foot-3, 193-pound former four-star recruit as the only healthy option for the Vols in the second half of a blowout loss to Alabama, and he'll make his second start Saturday against seventh-ranked Auburn at Neyland Stadium

At Missouri, Dobbs completed 26 of 42 passes for 240 yards and added 45 yards rushing. He was sharp on some throws and might have had a touchdown had fellow freshman Josh Smith caught the pass, and the rookie quarterback flashed his running ability on a 33-yard dash in the third quarter.

Yet there were plenty of mistakes. Dobbs fumbled once when he could have run out of bounds and threw into double coverage for one of his two interceptions. He left some rushing yards ungained by handing off. He missed an open Marquez North on an early fourth down with a high throw.

"I learned a lot," he said. "Every time you step on the field it's a learning opportunity. I learned just a lot about the college game and things I need to continue to improve at every day. Every time I step on the field I've just got to make sure I'm being smart and protecting the football.

"Once you make a mistake," he added, "you can't focus on it. You've just got to be ready to make the next play that comes to you."

The main thing Dobbs said he was focusing on this week is his leadership.

From sticking his head into an offensive line meeting last week to encouraging Brendan Downs after the tight end missed a block that led to an interception to watching the Missouri game video and taking notes on it during the plane flight back to Knoxville, the well-spoken first-year player has shown some of the intangibles coach Butch Jones wants to see in his quarterback.

"The quarterback's the alpha male," Jones said. "He's the one that has to be in charge when you start to suffer adversity. All the eyes go to the quarterback. The quarterback is their leader. The quarterback has to get things going.

"He's responsible for all that -- not only managing the football game, but also managing the players around him. There's a lot that goes into being the quarterback."

Teammates already have been impressed with Dobbs' poise and how he's handled playing the position, and they expect him to continue to develop as a player.

"I feel like he's probably in there watching film," center James Stone said, "and I know Dobbs, from what I've seen from him so far through camp until this point in the season, he's just as hard on himself as the coaches are. He's just watching and he's learning. I'm expecting him to continue to improve every week just like I've seen him improve through each week of practice.

"I know as an offensive line, we gained an exponential amount of respect for him, seeing how he's performing. He performed with poise even under pressure at times when we were not as clean as we needed to be up front. He was able to stand in there, and that gives you that much more respect from your offensive line."

Even since he became their starter, the Vols have noticed Dobbs hasn't changed much, and the same has held true after he made his first start.

"He doesn't feel like he was fazed by that last game," right tackle Ja'Wuan James said, "and he just wants to get better."

"Dobbs is going to be a success," added receiver Pig Howard. "He kept the [same] mindset the whole week in and out of practice and in the film room. If he makes a mistake, he'll come to you and tell you. For him to be a freshman, he's very mature."

In middle school, Dobbs developed a fascination with airplanes, and one day he hopes to build and design them. The interest is important enough to him that the specific academic program was a big part of his recruiting process. He said he enjoys school and even has helped teammates with some of their work.

Dobbs rather nonchalantly pointed to that as part of his job as the quarterback.

"I feel like it comes natural," he said when asked about being a leader as a freshman. "It's a part of the quarterback position. I've always done it, so it's just a habit I have. I just have to continue to work on it, refine my skills and continue to get better.

"Being the quarterback," he added, "it requires being a leader."

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