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Arizona Cardinals quarterback Joshua Dobbs (9) during the Week 3 regular season game between the Arizona Cardinals and the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Sep 24, 2023 in Glendale, AZ.
Joshua Dobbs Flying High As Cardinals Quarterback
Veteran 'in the moment' as he finally gets his chance to start
By Darren Urban Sep 27, 2023
Photographs By Caitlyn Epes

Joshua Dobbs wants to fly.

Not as in "down the field," although the Cardinals quarterback was quick to note that on his 44-yard run last week against the Cowboys he nearly reached 20 miles an hour. Dobbs wants to be a pilot, and that's his next off-the-field goal.

Gaining his personal pilot's license had been in his sights. Dobbs understood that his schedule likely wasn't going to be any more static than in-season, so the idea was to use the free time he had on Mondays, Tuesdays and sometimes Fridays to go to his local flight school. He dreamt of qualifying to fly by himself by the 2024 offseason. He arranged all that, and even took his first training flight.

The problem was the whole set-up was in Cleveland, and just a few days after that first flight, he was traded to the Cardinals.

"Starting requires a bigger role, so I was like, 'welp, maybe this offseason,'" Dobbs recalled with a grin.

Smart analysis from the 28-year-old, who finally has gotten his chance to start in his seventh NFL season – which also had been his dream.

The arrival of Dobbs late in the preseason – so late he couldn't participate in a preseason game and then started the opener with only a week-plus of practice in offensive coordinator Drew Petzing's system – made for an awkward transition. Colt McCoy spent the entire offseason and training camp as the presumed starter while Kyler Murray rehabbed from a knee injury, and then the Dobbs trade changed the equation.

A bumpy start in Washington Week 1 morphed into impressive play the next two weeks for the offense and Dobbs, who engineered the win over Dallas in what has already become a season with the most starts in his career: three and counting.

Dobbs is busy exploiting an opportunity he wasn't sure would come. He's an aerospace engineer by degree, a man with multiple NASA internships on the resumé and an eye to work – someday, after football – with NASA or commercial airline companies.

Flying on his own has long been a draw. He's already talked to Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill, a pilot himself, about the process.

"The freedom, the peace, it's a lot of fun," Dobbs said.

Dobbs is having fun playing quarterback, too.

WITH THE CARDINALS in Minnesota for joint practices and a competition still ongoing between McCoy and rookie Clayton Tune as to who would be the opening-day starter, Dobbs was in Cleveland thinking he was locked into the backup role behind Deshaun Watson.

That had been the role he was told he'd have when he signed as a free agent in March – picking the Browns rather than taking an offer from the Cardinals – and the role he had all offseason and training camp in practice.

The morning of the trade, Dobbs was even listening to Browns coach Kevin Stefanski noting the team was waiving QB Kellen Mond and the conversation turned to how things could happen so fast in the NFL. That afternoon, Dobbs was "just chillin'" at home and recording a podcast about UFOs and aliens with former college teammate Trey Smith, who plays for the Chiefs.

His phone buzzed. It was Browns GM Andrew Berry. Dobbs had been traded to the Cardinals, along with a seventh-round draft pick, in exchange for a fifth-rounder.

Dobbs was stunned. Was he being dealt because he hadn't shown the Browns enough? Or was it so he could have a better career opportunity, one that he had been desperate to get since being drafted in 2017? He immediately called Petzing – who had been the Browns QB coach the year before, when Dobbs was there during Watson's suspension – and Israel Woolfork, now the Cardinals QB coach and then Petzing's assistant in Cleveland.

"The details of it might have been weird and the logistics of it might've been crazy," Dobbs said, "but at the end of the day it's a chance to go play."

A chance, but not a guarantee.

"Honestly, no," Petzing said. "We're going to put whoever gives us the best chance to win on the field. Certainly, I knew a little bit about him as a person and a player, what he brought to the table, but I still believe in the other guys in that room.

"I was excited to see him win that opportunity, earn that opportunity, but I don't think it was a predetermined conclusion."

Dobbs didn't know anything about the Cardinals' QB situation. He didn't come in assuming he'd start either.

But McCoy was released, his practice time over camp not as good as the Cardinals had hoped and his relative non-mobility a factor. Dobbs, as coach Jonathan Gannon has pointed out multiple times, has the athleticism to run as well as throw, a necessary QB pairing in today's NFL.

And Dobbs then attacked the learning curve – as only a rocket scientist could – to be ready as much as possible to play games that count.

"What I have learned in my career, I have fallen in love with the process," Dobbs said. "The process of waking up each day, being the best person I can be, the best quarterback I can be, coming to the facility and preparing the best I can, staying in the moment."

The Washington game was disappointing, including the two late Dobbs fumbles that may have cost the Cardinals a win. But he was excellent the next two games, playing smart, generating two 28-point offensive outputs, throwing zero interceptions.

"Josh is playing like a guy who wants to seize this opportunity," tight end Zach Ertz said. "Everyone sees that. He's doing everything he can to leave his mark on this team."

THE STEELERS drafted Dobbs in the fourth round in the 2017 draft, and with Ben Roethlisberger entrenched at quarterback, the No. 2 job in Pittsburgh was the only realistic goal. As a rookie, he ended up third-string behind Landry Jones and felt "weird" when he walked on to the sideline for the regular-season opener wearing a sweatsuit after starting nearly his whole football life.

"You never accept it, but you're always looking at, what's the next tangible goal you can attain," Dobbs said.

He was traded to Jacksonville for a season and went back to the Steelers on a waiver claim a year later. He even re-signed with the Steelers at one point, perhaps staying longer than he should've in his quest to improve his spot. Dobbs signed as a free agent in Cleveland in 2022, getting released when Watson returned.

After a few weeks on the Lions' practice squad, the Titans brought him in to start back-to-back games in December. The first one, a loss to the Cowboys, didn't go well. The second was a loss, but Dobbs played better against the Jaguars.

They were the first two starts of his career.

"You take a moment to reflect, always," Dobbs said. "A year ago (playing for) Cleveland I went to the Tennessee-Florida game. It's been a crazy 10 months.

"It's been a really cool journey, but I want to stay in the moment and keep pushing forward."

The coaches have liked how unflappable Dobbs has proven to be, calm in the noise – like his touchdown pass to Hollywood Brown in the face of a heavy Cowboys pass rush during the fourth quarter Sunday. His confidence has been apparent.

He promised, in the interview room in the bowels of FedEx Field after the Commanders loss – and many fans already hoping for Tune to play -- that the offense would make a big jump in the second game. He was right.

"Sometimes when you meet a person, they give off an aura where you believe them," wide receiver Michael Wilson said. "If you gave him 100 things to do to get better, he's taking advantage of all 100 and probably asking for more. I believe him when he says, 'I'm doing everything I can to put myself in the positon to yield the result I want.'

"I love playing for a quarterback who is accountable. He is very emotionally mature where he can say, 'That's my bad' or 'I made a bad throw.' That's great for a leader of a team."

EVENTUALLY, Kyler Murray is going to be ready to return as the Cardinals' QB1.

When is the question. Murray is eligible to come off the PUP list as soon as Monday, although that is no sure thing. Once he does and can begin practicing, it will take some time before Murray is prepared to actually play.

Dobbs knew that was the situation as soon as he arrived.

"I stay true to me," Dobbs said. "I'm excited to see Kyler come back. I have watched his game from afar for a while. It's cool to meet him and be in the same room as him and be around him. When (the return) happens, I control what I can control and absorb whatever role that puts me in and go from there.

"It'll be OK. I'll manage it, he'll manage it, we'll be fine."

There was a reason the Cardinals chased Dobbs twice – once as a free agent, and then again in the trade market. The mindset that has served him so well, the mindset that has him playing good football for what is considered a surprising team after three weeks, is also a mindset that translates from starter to backup.

"Not only as a football player but a human being, I think it speaks volumes of who Josh Dobbs is," Woolfork said. "When I got to meet him and got to be around him in Cleveland, he is a better human being than he is a football player. I knew he would add that to our room."

Right now, the Cardinals need him as a starter. Dobbs will start his fourth game this season on Sunday at San Francisco, against arguably the best defense in the league. Yet, he has created a confidence in both himself and his offense that the Cardinals can find a way.

He smiles at the idea he's always been mature – "I have some people in my life who might argue that" – but he's learned in his NFL seasons what being a quarterback is about.

"I can be the funny clown if need be, but I understand as a quarterback a lot of people are looking to you," Dobbs said. "People are looking for that leadership from you. I try to be that stable, consistent, not-too-emotional rock that the team needs. So they know they can rely on you when we need you."

Dobbs is playing on a one-year, $1.5 million contract, and is scheduled to become a free agent after the season. The Cardinals figure to want Dobbs to stick around, a good No. 2 behind Murray. Then again, with what Dobbs has shown – and plans to show – while he's playing, perhaps there is a team out there who wants more than a backup.

"That's the hardest part about it with only 32 spots," Dobbs said. "When you feel like you're ready a spot may not be open."

It won't weigh on him. Dobbs is about the moment, not what will happen in 2024 or when Kyler returns but instead, as he jokes, what's for lunch that day.

Eventually, though, Joshua Dobbs wants to spread his wings.

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