Steelers rookie QB Joshua Dobbs to start in preseason opener
Owner of an aerospace engineering degree, Joshua Dobbs has shown he can handle advanced mathematics and physics equations.
On Friday, Dobbs will show whether he has grasped the nuances of the Steelers' playbook and the intricacies of reading an NFL defense.
The rookie quarterback not only will make his NFL preseason debut against the New York Giants at Met Life Stadium, he will start and be in charge of running the first-team offense.
Coach Mike Tomlin tabbed Dobbs, the team's fourth-round draft pick from Tennessee, as the starter Wednesday when he ruled Ben Roethlisberger will not play in the exhibition opener. Backup Landry Jones has been sidelined since early in camp with an abdominal strain and is not expected to suit up.
That leaves Dobbs to work with the first unit that will be minus several starters, most noticeably Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell, and possibly offensive linemen Maurkice Pouncey and Alejandro Villanueva.
“I'm very excited to compete in a game setting,” said Dobbs, who started 35 of 37 career games at Tennessee. “I haven't competed in a game since the Senior Bowl. It's a huge opportunity. Anytime you get reps on the field, you have to take advantage of them. If you get one rep a day or 30 reps in practice, you try to take advantage of each and every one.”
Roethlisberger offered one piece advice for the rookie.
“Make sure you throw the ball to our color,” Dobbs said, laughing.
Dobbs and fourth-stringer Bart Houston, an undrafted free agent from Wisconsin, are the only quarterbacks available to take snaps against the Giants. Tomlin did not specify how he will divvy up playing time, but he is expected to give Dobbs a long look.
“I am just interested in his game-day demeanor, his ability to communicate through circumstances,” Tomlin said, “not only with his fellow players but also with coaches as well.”
Not surprising for someone with his education, Dobbs has impressed Tomlin with his ability to grasp the playbook and execute plays in a practice setting.
“He appears to learn from mistakes, and that's good,” Tomlin said. “He also appears to learn from the mistakes of others — and that's doubly good.
“But like a lot of things, we won't know until we get him in the stadium. At that position, you are defined by how you perform under certain circumstances, and it will be good to get him in that stadium on Friday night in terms of putting his skills on display.”
Dobbs continued to get work with the first-team offense Wednesday when Roethlisberger sat out the final half of practice.
“Taking ownership is different when you go with the ones who are used to playing with Ben, but that comes with the quarterback position,” Dobbs said. “You have to own the position, own the play, say it with confidence and continually move forward.”
Dobbs might not be the only draft pick to start on offense. Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, the second-rounder from USC, worked with the first team Wednesday because of injuries to Justin Hunter, Sammie Coates and DeMarcus Ayers. Martavis Bryant was cleared Wednesday evening to join his teammates for practices and games.
“We have good chemistry because we came in together from rookie minicamp to OTAs to minicamp to training camp,” Smith-Schuster said of his relationship with Dobbs. “Going into this game will be fun because I know we'll be playing together.”
On defense, first-round draft pick T.J. Watt could start at right outside linebacker. Veteran James Harrison hasn't practiced fully since training camp began, and Watt has drawn first-team snaps since early in offseason practices.
“It's been a long time coming,” Watt said. “Just going against the same guys over and over for multiple weeks now, it gets very redundant. It's going to be awesome to hit a guy in a different color jersey.”