Steelers QB Josh Dobbs hopes to launch successful quest to back up Roethlisberger
As an aerospace engineering major who has done an externship at NASA, Joshua Dobbs was hoping the highlight of his summer break would be watching a scheduled rocket launch from Cape Canaveral.
Unfortunately, the launch was postponed during his stay.
Dobbs only can hope his chance of remaining the Pittsburgh Steelers’ backup quarterback doesn’t meet a similar fate. It has gotten off the ground once. Now, he is hoping nothing stops it from being sent into orbit.
Dobbs overcame the odds and a number game in the 2018 preseason to wrestle the backup job from incumbent Landry Jones. This year, with some brief NFL experience on his resume, Dobbs will be tasked with holding off 2018 third-round draft pick Mason Rudolph.
“He’s challenged now,” offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner said Wednesday. “This is open competition. They know it: The second spot is up for grabs again. He’s battling, just like Mason is.”
Dobbs is in a similar position to last summer, even though he enters the competition with five games of experience from last season and legitimate game action in Baltimore and Oakland that met with mixed results.
The Steelers held a first-round grade on Rudolph when they traded up in the third round in 2018 to select him, surprised he remained on the board until the No. 76 overall pick. Because of his pedigree, Rudolph is perceived to hold the slight advantage over Dobbs, although both quarterbacks have alternated snaps with the first and second teams through five training camp practices.
“My approach on a day-to-day basis is the same,” Dobbs said. “You compete against yourself. You compete for perfection on a daily basis. You want to complete every ball and go out and execute every play the best you can.
“It’s a daily competition with yourself to fight that complacency or what you guys are saying in the media.”
The storyline last summer was Dobbs was the fourth quarterback on a roster destined to keep three. But he performed well enough in training camp — Dobbs completed 67.4% of his attempts for a team-high 434 yards and four touchdowns against two interceptions — to make Jones expendable. With a year on the Steelers roster and more familiarity with the playbook, the 2017 fourth-round pick from Tennessee became Ben Roethlisberger’s backup. Rudolph was the No. 3 quarterback.
“It’s always about competing and competing at the highest level I can,” Dobbs said. “You’ve got to improve each day. Identify what you did well from the previous day but also the mistakes and be able to fix them and never make the same mistake twice. That’s always been my approach. It hasn’t changed from the first year to the second year to even this year.”
The Steelers’ decision to enter last season without an experienced backup was tested twice. On Nov. 4 at Baltimore, Dobbs had to replace Roethlisberger for a play in the fourth quarter with the Steelers holding a 20-13 lead. The offense faced a second-and-20 from the Steelers 5.
“He looked at me, and I felt comfortable (when I looked) in his eye,” Fichtner said. “Let’s throw the ball.”
Dobbs zipped a 22-yard completion to JuJu Smith-Schuster, and the drive ended with a field goal.
Five games later, Dobbs’ inexperience was evident in a 24-21 loss at Oakland. With Roethlisberger nursing a rib injury and the Steelers ahead, 14-10, Dobbs started the second half and completed just 4 of 9 attempts for 24 yards and an interception. The Steelers didn’t score again until Roethlisberger re-entered late in the fourth quarter.
Fichtner hopes the experience Dobbs received last year will aid in his efforts to win the No. 2 job. It’s time for liftoff, and Dobbs can’t afford a postponement.
“He’s been down this road,” he said. “He’s been in this system for three years, basically. We’ve tweaked things, added and deleted, but he’s been part of all of it. … He’s very intelligent, but just because you’re intelligent doesn’t mean that those reps out on the practice field or in the game (aren’t important). You still need them, and he needs a bunch of them.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .