BEREA − The conversation with Joshua Dobbs was winding down when it shifted to a question about his college team, the University of Tennessee. Nothing major, just looking for a quick explanation of the high-tempo offense it's been running.
More than two minutes later, Dobbs had concluded a point-by-point breakdown of the offense, plus exactly what the quarterback is reading both pre- and post-snap. Just for good measure, he also explained what the possible defensive response could be to slow it down.
Again, not the offense Tennessee ran while he was its quarterback from 2013-16. It's the offense the Volunteers are running now, in 2022.
That's the kind of understanding of the game the Browns' third-string quarterback possesses. It's what has allowed for him to gain a special perspective despite having only appeared in six regular-season games as he enters his sixth season in the NFL.
"You get some perspective," Dobbs said in an interview with the Beacon Journal. "You see the game from a bigger lens. When you're in it, snap-in and snap-out, there's so much emotion obviously around every single play, You're focused on the one play and sometimes, when you're in it, you don't see the game-management side of it. It gives a unique perspective."
Don't get Dobbs wrong. There's absolutely nothing he wouldn't want to be more than the starting quarterback, be it in Cleveland, Pittsburgh − where he's spent four of his six years in the league − or Jacksonville, where he spent the 2019 season. Really, he wouldn't mind any of the cities around the NFL.
There's only one problem. There's only a minute number of those opportunities for anyone.
It doesn't take an aerospace engineer, which is what Dobbs majored in at Tennessee, to know that's going to cut down on the chances for anyone except for the very best to hold down one of those jobs for any substantial length of time.
"Obviously, you have to be aware of situations," Dobbs said. "Playing in the National Football League at the quarterback position is an extremely unique situation. There's only 32 people in the world that can call themselves a starting quarterback. Everyone else is aspiring to be one of 32. Every day with that goal and thought in mind, you always are paying attention to the details, you focus on the little things, you're maximizing every single rep. At least, I am."
That goes for more than just Dobbs himself, or the quarterback room as a collective. It's really an something he tries to help everyone on the Browns roster do.
David Bell, for one, tapped into the resource that is Dobbs as he worked his way back from a foot injury that kept him sidelined for most of the first two weeks of training camp. So, seeing Dobbs putting in some extra work after practice, the rookie receiver asked if he could try to pick some things up from the veteran.
For Bell, it was like tapping into a super computer. It's a big reason why he doesn't feel quite so far behind as he tries to catch up to the rest of his teammates.
"He’s a very, very smart person," Bell said. "He took me under his wing. He said if I need anything to ask for him, and understanding that I wouldn’t be able to be out at practice and be able to physically go through the stuff like the rest of the guys, I mentally during practice watch it and make sure I understand it and also after practice. I go up to Dobbs and he’s been staying after. I know he’s out there in the hot sun playing quarterback having to do all of this stuff, but he’s definitely been a good role model for me."
That kind of work ethic is born from the competitive nature which made Dobbs a starter in the highest-profile position on the football from about the time he first started playing the game until his final game at Tennessee. The first time he wasn't at least in the mix to be a starter came when he was drafted in the fourth round of the 2017 draft by the Steelers.
Of course, at the time, the Steelers' starting quarterback job was pretty well spoken for, given the presence of future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger. The same was true when Dobbs signed with the Browns in April, with both Deshaun Watson and Jacoby Brissett on the depth chart ahead of him.
That hasn't stopped Dobbs from finding his own voice within the Browns' locker room. He may be No. 3 on the quarterback depth chart, but he's still earned the respect of the teammates around him because of the work ethic of a No. 1 quarterback.
"You just be yourself every day and come out and compete," Dobbs said. "I mean, that's really where it starts. Just come out and compete and play hard, be yourself. I've played quarterback for a long time, so whenever you step in there, everyone wants you to act as if you're the starter and you plan to perform and compete and execute as if you're the starter. When you're in the huddle, you look the guys in the eyes. You tell them what you want, clear and direct. Off the field, in your interactions with your teammates, you just be yourself. That's where it starts."
Whether or not an opportunity exists for Dobbs to start at some point in the regular season remains uncertain. Watson is facing at least a six-game suspension − and likely much longer on appeal − for violations of the NFL personal conduct policy in relation to multiple sexual misconduct allegations in Texas, leaving Brissett as the likely starter in his absence.
However, in the NFL, the backup quarterback is merely one moment away from being the starter. While Brissett's in the starting role, that's Dobbs waiting in the wings should his name be called.
Which is why, despite where he may stand on the depth chart today, Dobbs is practicing every day like a starting job awaits tomorrow.
"Competition is always healthy," Dobbs said. "My college coach always said, 'Compete, don't compare.' Everyone has different routes, right? Everyone's routes are different, different situations, so you can't always compare your situations because they're not the same. You can only compete with the situation you're given."
That's allowed Dobbs to easily acclimate himself into yet another situation which may not on the surface seem like the most advantageous one for him.
It's why, during the first two-minute drills of training camp Sunday, he was able to guide the third-unit offense down the field for a "game-tying" touchdown and two-point conversion when he threw a 38-yard touchdown to Zaire Mitchell-Paden and a two-point pass to Mike Harley Jr.
It was the only touchdown scored by any of the three offensive units in three tries. It, however, epitomized the attention to detail Dobbs has brought to the field.
"I have really enjoyed how he has handled himself and how he has done in the meeting room," coach Kevin Stefanski said. "I think he is on top of everything. He has had some really good moments out there on the practice field. You always have moments that you wish you could have back, like any quarterback, but I think he is doing a nice job.”
Dobbs figures to get a lot of opportunities over the next three weeks to do the job on the field, at least when it comes to the Browns' three preseason games. He won't start any of those, beginning with Friday's preseason opener at Jacksonville, but he figures to get a lot of snaps.
Still, when the Sept. 11 regular-season opener at Carolina comes around, Dobbs' sightlines for the game figure to be very similar to the ones he's had for most of his NFL career. Those sightlines, though, still allow for him to grow as a player even if he doesn't get a snap in the game.
"In the end, you want to be the guy calling the shots on the field, not watching from, I guess the best seats in the house with some front-row seats," Dobbs said. "When you are there, there's still an opportunity to see the game from a wider perspective and put yourself in those situations. You hear a play, you know you're up nine with four-and-a-half minutes left. OK, let me try to milk the clock, trying to drain as much clock as I can, it's a two-possession game now.
"I want to it to be, if they get the ball back, they have 30 seconds in a two-possession game. Little things like that, so then you're able to give that perspective to whoever is in the game, but you're also able to get those mental reps of, OK, this is what I would do in this situation. It just helps you become a better player."
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This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Browns' Josh Dobbs finds different perspective from sideline