NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Titans quarterback Joshua Dobbs was driving dwelling to Atlanta on Christmas Eve to be together with his household when he obtained a telephone name. Titans quarterbacks coach Pat O’Hara was on the opposite finish when Dobbs picked up.
“Hey, can you come in tomorrow?” O’Hara mentioned. “We want to go through the game plan. I just want you to see this stuff as soon as possible.”
Dobbs spent Christmas morning at dwelling, then circled and drove again to the Titans’ facility that afternoon. As it turned out, one of the best Christmas current Dobbs obtained was getting the heads-up that he’d be the starter in opposition to the Dallas Cowboys for Week 17.
The Titans needed to get a soar on preparation as a result of the prime-time Thursday matchup meant a brief week for Tennessee.
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The beginning spot opened up after Ryan Tannehill suffered an ankle harm in Week 15 in opposition to the Los Angeles Chargers that landed him on injured reserve. Rookie Malik Willis obtained the beginning in Week 16 in opposition to the Houston Texans however accomplished solely 14 out of 23 makes an attempt for 99 yards and had two interceptions in a 19-14 loss. Willis additionally began in Weeks 8 and 9, and the Titans are 1-3 in video games when he hasn’t began.
Tennessee moved up within the third spherical of the draft to pick Willis — a participant some thought of a first-round expertise — at No. 86. But regardless of all of that, coach Mike Vrabel wished to see what Dobbs might do, so he named him because the starter for Week 17.
Dobbs had by no means began a regular-season recreation in his profession, and though the Titans fell 27-13, the expertise was invaluable. Being a profession backup required Dobbs to spend each week getting ready as if he had been the starter solely to not see any precise recreation snaps.
Dobbs provided an analogy that’s actually becoming of a man with a 4.0 GPA as an aeronautical engineering main on the University of Tennessee.
“It’s like this is, you know, you have an algebra test every Friday,” Dobbs mentioned. “You have to prepare for the test. You prepare, you do all the homework on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. You go through the process, do the actual work. You go to after-hours and everything. And then Friday comes, and then you just don’t take the test.”
Naturally, Dobbs had some early-game jitters in his first begin. But he informed himself to “take a deep breath, stay present, stay in the moment, lock in on the game plan.” Dobbs completed with 20 completions on 39 makes an attempt for 232 yards, 1 landing and 1 interception for a quarterback score of 67.5.
That efficiency, and Dobbs’ emergence as a pacesetter, has earned him the beginning in opposition to the Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8) on Saturday night time (8:15 p.m. ET; ABC, ESPN, ESPN+) in what quantities to an AFC South title recreation.
Jacksonville is in first place within the division after profitable 4 straight to leap Tennessee (7-9), whereas the Titans try to punch their ticket to the playoffs and keep away from ending the season on a seven-game shedding streak.
It’s lose or go dwelling for the Titans and Dobbs, who was solely two weeks faraway from being signed off the Detroit Lions’ observe squad when he made his first begin.
However, the soothing affect Dobbs possesses has rubbed off on teammates, a few of whom he did not know by title when he suited up in opposition to Dallas.
“He brought a calming presence,” heart Corey Levin mentioned. “He’s not a big ‘rah-rah’ guy, but he gets the guys locked in, and there’s a confidence about it.”
Dobbs’ confidence comes from his preparation. The confidence confirmed from the beginning in how comfortably Dobbs articulated performs in observe and executed the offense. It was clear he had put in further time to check and put together himself.
As a backup with the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2017 to 2019 and 2020 to 2021, Dobbs discovered quite a bit from surefire Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger. Dobbs mentioned he watched how Roethlisberger was constant together with his preparation. He admired how Roethlisberger poured into the fellows by continuously discussing the small print with the receivers who confirmed up on recreation day.
Now it is Dobbs’ flip to place what he discovered into motion with a playoff berth on the road. Developing timing with receivers is at all times troublesome for a brand new quarterback.
The enhanced tempo is hard to duplicate with out enjoying time, however Dobbs and a few of the receivers have spent further time after observe working routes to attempt to compensate for that.
This week, Dobbs will even have the luxurious of enjoying with Pro Bowl working again Derrick Henry, who was amongst six starters held out of final week’s recreation.
Getting the third-leading rusher within the NFL again is nice information in opposition to a Jacksonville protection that has allowed solely 13.3 factors per recreation over the previous three weeks and handed the Titans a 36-22 loss in Week 14. The Jaguars will likely be targeted on stopping Henry, who rushed for 117 yards within the first matchup.
Based on ESPN Analytics calculations, the Titans have a 15% likelihood to win the sport and seize their third consecutive AFC South title, a streak that might be a primary in franchise historical past.
It’ll be Dobbs’ job to assist the passing recreation present steadiness and make the most of alternatives after they come up.
“Joshua is going to be very well prepared and understands that we will have to go into a great environment on Saturday night,” Vrabel mentioned. “He understands that. He has played quarterback. He has played in front of big crowds. He has played in big games.”
The magnitude of Saturday’s recreation is not misplaced on Dobbs, and he is not shying away from the second.
“It is a tremendous opportunity,” Dobbs mentioned. “I’m excited to lead this week. Just be yourself in how you prepare, how you approach each day, each meeting, each practice. Then, when the ball is in hand, you have to go out and deliver.”