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Steelers QB Joshua Dobbs fighting for roster spot

June 17, 2018

It just might take a rocket scientist for the Steelers to figure out how to fit four quarterbacks into three available roster spots.

Joshua Dobbs, an aerospace engineering major in college, is doing his best to solve the untenable equation so it works out to his advantage.

Dobbs, only one season into his NFL career, became the consensus odd quarterback out when the Steelers drafted Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph in the third round.

Unless there is an injury in training camp or the preseason and barring a trade, the Steelers are expected to open the season with Landry Jones and Rudolph as the options behind Ben Roethlisberger. That leaves Dobbs perhaps ticketed for the practice squad, another team’s roster if he doesn’t clear waivers or, worse, the unemployment line.

Those issues will be decided in August and September. In mid-June, as minicamp neared its conclusion and the four-week offseason workout program ended, Dobbs wasn’t looking that far into the future.

“I just try to attack it the same every day, come ready to play,” Dobbs said. “I’m ready to work, and I have that mindset when I step in the building. Of course, (drafting Rudolph) raises an added element of competition, but it doesn’t change my mindset and how I approach what I do on the field.

“I just have to go out and compete and play well when I get my opportunities.”

One year after being selected in the fourth round by the Steelers, Dobbs wasn’t totally caught off guard when the team drafted Rudolph. After all, Dobbs didn’t expect to be selected in 2017 by the Steelers, who had veterans Jones and Zach Mettenberger on the roster behind Roethlisberger.

“It’s a day of unknowns,” Dobbs said. “I knew that last year when I was a part of it. So you really don’t know, and you have no effect on what to expect. You’ve got to embrace your new teammates and be ready to work when you show up at OTAs and minicamp.”

At Tennessee, Dobbs had a knack for winning, compiling a 23-12 record as a starter and going 3-0 in bowl games. His 7,138 career passing yards ranked fifth in school history, and his 9,360 yards of total offense was third, with one of the quarterbacks listed ahead of him being Peyton Manning.

Dobbs did some of his best work for the Volunteers with his feet, setting career and single-season highs for rushing yards and touchdowns by a quarterback. His ability to escape the pocket and make plays with his legs give Dobbs a tangible no other Steelers quarterback possesses.

“Josh will always surprise you with his athleticism,” Jones said. “He still makes throws from the pocket, but when it’s time to run, he’s a lot faster than I think people give him credit for.”

The Steelers decided to get an early look at Dobbs in preseason, starting him in the first two games. He finished the exhibition season completing 59.4 percent of his passes for 406 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. In the preseason finale, he threw a touchdown pass and ran for the winning score with two seconds left in a 17-14 win over Carolina.

Then, it was back to the bench for Dobbs, who was inactive for the first 15 games and the backup in the season finale against Cleveland. Before he headed into the offseason after the playoff loss to Jacksonville, Dobbs was given some advice from quarterbacks coach and soon-to-be offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner.

“The biggest thing for me and the stuff Randy talked about was having a consistent setup in the pocket,” Dobbs said. “It’s about being straight back, getting to a good spot and having a good rhythm in my passing. That’s what I’ve been working at in these OTAs.”

Dobbs also spent some time in the offseason at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., where he trained during the predraft process. He entered spring workouts in May with confidence he might have lacked as a rookie.

“It feels like I’m eight steps ahead, really,” Dobbs said last week. “It’s just different. Last year, you’re coming in and scrambling to learn the playbook. Today, I remembered the first time I heard a play on the walkie-talkie and reciting it in the huddle. Now, it’s not only being able to hear it, you can see the play in your mind and visually see it and go through the reads and have an idea how you’re going to attack the defense.”

In five weeks, Dobbs will have the chance to attack the quarterback competition with his work in padded practices and preseason games. If it doesn’t work out in his favor, there’s always his fallback plan of working at NASA or Pratt & Whitney, where he once interned at the company that makes aircraft engines for the U.S. government.

“I continue to keep up on it because I worked so hard at it in school,” Dobbs said. “You don’t want to lose sight of it, so I do have some things planned and some connections with NASA I’m excited about.”

Until then, it’s all football for Dobbs — no matter how challenging the mathematical equation to retain his roster spot might be.

Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jrutter@tribweb.com or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.