How Josh Dobbs wowed teammates through his NFL journey

Perhaps you've heard: Joshua Dobbs graduated from the University of Tennessee with a degree in aerospace engineering and a 4.0 GPA. The Minnesota Vikings quarterback has done an externship with NASA twice, worked on the site of a SpaceX rocket launch and inspired the nickname "Passtronaut."

It is selling Dobbs short, however, to suggest his intelligence alone has powered his NFL run, joining the Vikings in Week 9. He has navigated a wholly unique experience not only with smarts but also a work ethic that has gone largely unnoticed amid the fascination with the rest of his story.

Those who work inside the Vikings practice facility get it. Late in the afternoon on Nov. 3, defensive coordinator Brian Flores was leaving the building for the day. It was a Friday, a day in the regimented NFL schedule that typically allows for an early departure and a deep breath as game preparation winds down. As he passed the indoor practice field, Flores noticed Dobbs and assistant quarterbacks coach Grant Udinski working alone.

"I looked over and said, 'I'm going to go pick up my kids.' You guys can do that," Flores said. "I was not in awe, but you could see the work he was doing to get himself ready."

This was not an ordinary work session between coach and player. The Vikings had acquired Dobbs three days earlier from the Arizona Cardinals because they needed a backup for rookie Jaren Hall, who would be making his first NFL start that week in place of the injured Kirk Cousins. They did not plan to play Dobbs against the Atlanta Falcons, despite his experience in assimilating offenses in six other NFL stops. But they did need him to have at least some grip on their offense in case Hall was injured against the Falcons.

Over the course of nearly six hours, Dobbs and Udinski went through every play on the call sheet coach Kevin O'Connell planned to have at his disposal against the Falcons -- more than 100 in total.

"We were trying to uncover every single stone," Dobbs said. "Basically doing a research project ... to try to get up to speed on the offense and generate maybe some extra reps I would have missed from camp and OTAs and get on the same page with everyone to get the offense rolling in the right direction."

As it turned out, the Vikings needed Dobbs before the first quarter in Atlanta ended. A concussion sidelined Hall after the team's third possession, but Dobbs entered to lead the team to an improbable victory, accounting for 224 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns even before he knew the names of most of his teammates.

The Vikings are 2-2 since Dobbs entered that game in Atlanta. Despite a rash of turnovers that contributed to consecutive losses before the Week 13 bye, he has kept them in the NFC playoff race under circumstances that usually scuttle a season. O'Connell decided against replacing him for Sunday's game at the Las Vegas Raiders (4:05 p.m. ET, Fox), saying the Vikings need to "dive deeper into what helps him be the best version of himself" -- a vote of confidence that provides an opportunity to trace Dobbs' journey through nearly a quarter of the NFL's 32 teams. -- Kevin Seifert

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers selected Dobbs in the fourth round (135th overall) of the 2017 draft. He spent parts of five seasons in Pittsburgh from 2017-2021 but never started a game.

Stats: 10-of-17 (58.8%) passing for 47 yards, 1 INT; 31 rushing yards

When offensive tackle Chukwuma Okorafor joined the organization as a third-round draft pick in 2018, Dobbs had already been in Pittsburgh for a year. The two became fast friends when Dobbs introduced himself to Okorafor.

"First day I came here, he came up to me, was like, 'Hey, I'm Josh,'" Okorafor said. "As time went on my rookie year, he was always helping me or whatever I was doing with the scout team or just showing me what to do, taking me around town all the time."

It didn't take long for Okorafor to realize that Dobbs was a smart guy -- and not because he bragged about being a real life rocket scientist. He was adept at assimilating to any group in the locker room, a sort of chameleon in social situations. It's a trait, Okorafor said, that's undoubtedly helped him as he's ricocheted around the league.

"He just thinks about stuff a whole different way, but you can tell he's not a guy who always tries to sound smart ..." Okorafor said. "He can legit hang out with anyone, like a P-squad guard that just came in the first day. He's going to be best friends with him or a vet like Cam Heyward. He can hang out with anyone anytime."

Heyward is a big fan of Dobbs, too. He vividly remembers the final 2018 preseason game against the Carolina Panthers where Dobbs completed 8 of 12 attempts for 121 yards and scored two touchdowns.

"That game always meant a lot to us, because it really determines if you make the team or not," Heyward said. "And just the way he played that game, you could tell he was seizing the opportunity. He's a team player that a lot of guys love to be around. When his number's been called, he's always answered." -- Brooke Pryor

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars got Dobbs in a Sept. 2019 trade with the Steelers for a fifth-round pick. He spent a season in Jacksonville before being waived on Sept. 5, 2020.

Stats: Dobbs never appeared in a regular-season game for the Jaguars.

Jaguars left tackle Cam Robinson knew who Dobbs was because he played against his Tennessee Volunteers three times while he was at Alabama. And Robinson knew, from the stories in the media, that Dobbs was intelligent.

Which is why Robinson was a little surprised when he first met Dobbs after the Jaguars traded for him after quarterback Nick Foles suffered a broken collarbone.

"I remember everybody always talking about him being incredibly smart, so the first time I met him, I don't know if I had a preconceived notion of what to expect, but he was the most laid back and the most chill person ever," Robinson said.

Robinson has been incredibly impressed with what Dobbs has done, especially the way he stepped in and played just five days after joining the Vikings.

"I don't even think people have an idea of how -- I mean, obviously we know it's hard -- but bro, that s--- is hard," Robinson said. "To be able to just go to a new team and pick it up is unbelievably hard. Indescribably hard, and he just rolls. It's incredible to see." -- Michael DiRocco

Cleveland Browns

The Browns initially signed Dobbs on March 14, 2022, before waiving him that November when quarterback Deshaun Watson came back from an 11-game suspension. They re-signed him to back up Watson in 2023 before trading him and a seventh-rounder to the Cardinals on Aug. 24 for a fifth-round pick.

Stats: Dobbs never appeared in a regular-season game for the Browns.

Dobbs, the lone Volunteer on a Browns roster full of Alabama alums, would get into plenty of college football arguments with his Cleveland teammates.

Dobbs at one point quipped back with the exact point differential in the drives he was on the field as Tennessee's quarterback in two games against Alabama while Browns wideout Amari Cooper starred there.

Dobbs came in during the 2012 meeting after the Crimson Tide already held a 35-0 lead and fought Alabama to a 10-10 stalemate for a 45-10 final. The next season, Dobbs subbed in again, this time with a 14-0 deficit. The final score ended up being 34-20, once again giving Dobbs the technical tie against Cooper.

"He's one of those guys that looks at life from the perspective of, how you do anything is how you do everything," Cooper said. "I know a lot of football players who want to be great at football and excel at football but didn't do so well in school. [Dobbs] is the complete opposite. He's more so like I'm going to be great in football, I'm going to be great in school, I'm going to be great in every aspect of life."

Over his two-time stint in Cleveland, Dobbs became one of the most popular players in the locker room. Last year, Cleveland waived Dobbs after Watson returned, clearing the way for the Tennessee Titans to pick him up.

The Browns were at their hotel in Pittsburgh last year for their regular-season finale, when Dobbs was making his second career start for Tennessee on a Saturday night.

Several Cleveland players, including guard Joel Bitonio, running back Nick Chubb, tight end David Njoku and quarterback Jacoby Brissett gathered in the hotel meal room for a Dobbs watch party.

"We're getting hyped and screaming and people are like, 'What are these guys getting so pumped about?'" Bitonio recalled. "They ended up losing the game, but he played really well and we were so pumped for him because we saw the work he put in behind the scenes.

"He had that ability to relate to anybody. Just a guy that everybody gets along with."

Browns rookie quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson said Dobbs taught him how to be a professional during their time together in the offseason and training camp before Dobbs was traded to the Cardinals.

Thompson-Robinson said Dobbs showed him how to take notes in meetings with Browns head coach and offensive playcaller Kevin Stefanski.

"[Dobbs] asks the right questions," Thompson-Robinson said. "And then how to operate, how to handle the iPad, how to handle just being a pro." -- Jake Trotter

Detroit Lions

After he was cut by the Browns in 2022, the Lions signed Dobbs to their practice squad on Dec. 5, 2022. But he wasn't there for long.

Stats: Dobbs was never on the Lions' 53-man roster.

Lions wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones played with Dobbs with the Browns, and was impressed with who he was away from football.

"In Cleveland, he took us all to basically a NASA station to learn about the planes and learn about what they were doing in that NASA situation and it's kind of a testament to the type of guy he is off the field, which I feel like helps him on the field," Peoples-Jones told ESPN.

Peoples-Jones said Dobbs offered a signup sheet for players to attend the NASA field trip.

"It was great because it's not something that you get to do often," Peoples-Jones said. "You don't get to learn about the things that they use in space and be able to go into a room and see all the different controls and things that they get to do without someone like him helping bridge that gap, so it was a nice experience." -- Eric Woodyard

Tennessee Titans

The Titans added Dobbs to their 53-man roster on Dec. 21, 2022, signing him off the Lions' practice squad. Eight days later, on a Thursday night against the Dallas Cowboys, Dobbs was tabbed to start. He also started the Titans' season finale against the Jaguars.

Stats: 40-of-68 (58.8%) passing for 411 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs, 44 rushing yards

It took until his sixth NFL season for Dobbs to get his first start. Like many former teammates, wide receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine was blown away by how quickly Dobbs was able to assimilate a new offense.

"It really didn't seem like he skipped a beat. It was almost like he was with us during those minicamp and training camp times."

Tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo was also in awe of Dobbs' ability to adapt.

"I just remember being impressed with how he came in. I think it was like a Thursday or Friday morning. He learned all the stuff he needed to learn in like a day or two ... I was like, 'Damn. How the hell did he do that?'" -- Turron Davenport

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals traded for Dobbs on Aug. 24, 2023, and he was quickly named the starter while Kyler Murray recovered from offseason ACL surgery on his right knee. It was Dobbs' first chance to lead an offense for a prolonged stretch, starting eight games before being traded to the Vikings.

Stats: 167-of-266 (62.8%) passing for 1,569 yards, 8 TDs, 5 INTs; 258 rushing yards, 3 TDs

Geoff Swaim had seen it before.

The Cardinals tight end was with the Titans in 2022 when Dobbs arrived in Nashville in Week 15, learned the offense and then started a week later. So, when Swaim welcomed Dobbs after he was traded to the Cardinals on Aug. 24, he watched Dobbs do the same thing -- he learned an offense, albeit one he was familiar with from his time with the Browns, in a couple of weeks and then went out and started after just a handful of practices.

"He just jumps right in, picks the offense up, starts rolling and operated really efficiently," Swaim said. "I'm not sure I could do that playing tight end, and now imagine playing quarterback. I'm fairly certain I couldn't do that in a week to play my position, but him doing that at quarterback is just remarkable."

From the time Dobbs sat in his first QB meeting in Arizona, he fit in, Cardinals quarterback Clayton Tune said. It didn't take long for Dobbs to start teaching things about the offense to Tune, who had been working in it since he was drafted in April.

What stood out to Tune was how well Dobbs was able to digest and deploy Arizona's game plans without the months of work to learn the intricacies of the scheme.

"I feel like our game plans were just as complex as they would've been with a quarterback that had been here for much longer than him," Tune said. "So, picking up the complex game plan and knowing all the run checks, the pass checks was impressive."

His former teammates in Arizona have been watching Dobbs.

"It's great," Murray said Dobbs' opportunity in Minnesota. "For him to be in the league this long and to finally kind of get his opportunity to show people his ability and how he can put a stamp on a game is good for him." -- Josh Weinfuss

Minnesota Vikings

After losing quarterback Kirk Cousins in Week 8 to an Achilles injury to his right foot, the Vikings acquired Dobbs and a conditional seventh-rounder from the Cardinals for a sixth-round pick. Dobbs was forced into game action five days later.

Stats: 63-of-96 (65.6%) passing for 647 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT; 131 rushing yards, 3 TDs

Upon his arrival in Minnesota, Dobbs was assigned a locker that had been previously occupied by a practice squad running back. One of the first personal objects he put into it was a rugby ball.

The purpose was simple. In baseball, players routinely place a weighted donut around their bats for practice swings. When they're removed, the bat is lighter and seems easier to generate speed in the swing.

"A rugby ball is a little bigger than a typical football," Dobbs said, "and it's a little slicker. So then when you put a nice QB ball in your hand, it feels pretty good."

Dobbs uses the ball during prepractice warmups. As tempting as it is to attribute the habit to engineering or physiological research, however, Dobbs said it isn't that complicated.

"There's no science," he said. "I'm not going to sit up here and act like there is. It's just something I started doing one offseason. I saw a receiver coach who was throwing the ball to receivers, so then ... I was throwing the rugby ball a couple times, and I switched back to the football and it felt good. So, I incorporate it."

At the time of his trade from the Cardinals, Dobbs had reached a personal milestone: He had been with a team long enough to move all of his personal items into a home. Just as he had settled into a Phoenix suburb, however, the Vikings came calling.

So Dobbs hopped on a plane with enough clothes for a week or so and prepared to resume the itinerant hotel life. He didn't have his car yet and didn't bother to rent one, instead camping out in a hotel that is in the same complex as the Vikings' practice facility. He ate every meal in the team's cafeteria, he said, before signing an apartment lease at the end of his second week in Minnesota.

On one of his final days in the hotel, Dobbs stumbled into the Vikings' annual gathering of former players and other organizational alumni. He got on an elevator with several of them -- he isn't steeped enough in team history yet to know who they were -- and had a "pinch me" moment.

"They were, like, 'Oh, you're the quarterback,'" Dobbs said. "And they were so excited just to be here in Minnesota, be back around football and back around the facility. And just feeling that energy, man, and feeling that recognition from guys that have played a lot more snaps than I have, have had illustrious careers. And just to see that excitement, it meant a lot to me.

"And so, yeah, in the moment it was a cool moment just to be able to take it all in and enjoy that quick fellowship with them just as football players but also [for them to] respect the position that I'm in." -- Seifert