KNOXVILLE — After Friday's Music City Bowl, Tennessee will have a new quarterback in the next football game it plays.
While it's unfair to ask whoever wins the starting job in the offseason to be the next Josh Dobbs, the Volunteers certainly hope their young quarterbacks can imitate the outgoing senior in many ways.
Dobbs' final game as Tennessee's starting quarterback and the face of the program he's helped to revitalize is against Nebraska in Nashville. Then the reins will be handed over to a trio of potential successors.
"The biggest thing that Josh Dobbs — there's a lot of things that Josh Dobbs has taught them — but I think the biggest thing Josh Dobbs has taught them is to stay the course and work every day. Every day," offensive coordinator Mike DeBord said earlier this month.
"Let's go back, and I can't talk too much about before I came other than when I watched film and stuff, but let's go back and think about where Josh Dobbs started two years ago and where he is today. That's through hard work. That's through the extra work that we don't see as coaches, like going out with our receivers and throwing the ball to them and all that.
"I said to him this morning, I said something about, you know, 'I bet you when you think back to a point of a year ago of all the work you were putting in at that time and all the things you needed to work, I bet you smile a little bit.' He started laughing and goes, 'Yeah, there's no doubt.' He's worked extremely hard.
"And that's the part I would love for those quarterbacks to see, his work ethic and his mentality through that. As we know, it hasn't been all roses for Josh Dobbs. He's playing extremely well right now, and it's because of what he's done in the past and what he's continued to do. That's the biggest thing I'd like to see these quarterbacks take from him."
After players used a few days off from practice to disperse to their hometowns to see family, the Vols returned to Knoxville on Saturday to begin game-week preparations. They will practice in Knoxville before heading this evening to Nashville, where they will practice at Montgomery Bell Academy on Tuesday and hold walk-throughs on Wednesday and Thursday.
Early bowl practices presented the opportunity for the Vols to hand their younger quarterbacks — sophomore backup Quinten Dormady, redshirt freshman third-stringer Sheriron Jones and redshirting freshman Jarrett Guarantano — more work before Dobbs resumed his normal workload as Tennessee installed its game plan for Nebraska.
"I think they have brought it all the time," DeBord said. "They really have. It's a focused group, and they're focused players individually. I just haven't seen the change that way."
Tennessee never made any changes with Dobbs as the starter. He's proven to be remarkably durable and rarely missed a snap. Dormady appeared in six games as a freshman in 2015, but 13 of his 17 passes this season came against Tennessee Tech as the Vols played mostly close games.
While Tennessee's next quarterback will be short on experience, he will have spent at least one season as an understudy to Dobbs, who compiled a 21-9 record as a starter the past three seasons while being a model student-athlete and outstandingly marketable ambassador for the program.
"He's made a lot of growth, especially throwing and taking control of the offense and especially as a leader," said wide receiver Josh Malone, who caught 10 of Dobbs' SEC-best 26 touchdown passes this season. "He came a long way, from my freshman year all the way to now. His whole entire game is different. His impact on the Tennessee program won't be forgotten."
The Vols also hope he left an imprint on his potential replacements.
"It should benefit them a lot," coach Butch Jones said. "It's all about being a sponge, and you have a great illustration of an individual who's really invested in his football game and invested in the University of Tennessee and our football program. The way he prepares on a daily basis and his consistency — I would say that's the biggest thing with Josh is consistency.
"He doesn't wear his emotions on his sleeves. You know what you're getting every day. He's the same person every day, whether it's on the field or off the field. You look at the giving of his time off the field and making relationships in the Knoxville community, but also in the state of Tennessee that will last a lifetime.
"That's what it is, is playing quarterback is so different than any other position in sport. It's not just about being a good football player that goes into it, but it's what we call the quarterback intangibles. A lot of times the quarterback intangibles can be much more important than the God-given ability."
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