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Are Pittsburgh Steelers rookie QB Josh Dobbs’ mechanical issues fixable?

The Steelers selected one of the higher-rated quarterbacks in the 2017 NFL Draft, but he’s shown accuracy issues in the past. Is this something that can be fixed?

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Texas A&M Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Depending on who you ask, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ fourth-round pick in last week’s 2017 NFL Draft is either an absolute steal or a sure-fire bust. There aren’t really many whose opinions are neutral on Joshua Dobbs, the former University of Tennessee quarterback whose Combine numbers show an exceptionally athletic player who’s also known for questionable accuracy as a passer.

A number of variables affect his alleged accuracy issues, including an offensive line that started to leak like a sieve shortly after the team started its 2016 season at 6-0. This, combined with stronger pass rushes from stout defenses in the latter half of the season, resulted in a substantial increase in errant passes from the young player.

Less obvious, but more important to Dobbs’ longevity in the league and with the Steelers, are a few mechanical issues.

The good news? Upon further review, these issues are few and easy to fix.

There are two issues, both of which have to do with footwork. Surprisingly, Dobbs has a nearly flawless arm motion (e.g. 90-degree bends in the elbow and armpit of the throwing hand, almost full up-and-out extension of the throwing arm, etc.). From the waist up, head included, Dobbs is a great prospect.

It’s below the waist where the problems come from, and these issues are exacerbated by pressure.

Open Stance when Planting

Josh Dobbs throw accuracy due to mechanical issues
Josh Dobbs’ feet do not always point in the direction of the throw

This one usually happens with pressure from the front. When quarterback Ben Roethlisberger feels front-side pressure, he will usually either step up in the pocket, or he will pull the ball down and retreat backward, and into the pressure. This makes the defender either run right by or have to waste time and energy by doubling back, buying Roethlisberger time.

But when Dobbs feels heat coming head-on, he rushes the throw or pulls the ball down and runs. Give him credit for staying in occasionally and taking the hit. But he tends to minimize the impact by stepping away from the pressure when he plants to throw. The negative here is that this happens after he has set his shoulders in the direction of the receiver. This results in Dobbs opening his stance, just as a batter in baseball would do with his step when he swings at an inside pitch. This rotation in his step also rotates his torso, turning his shoulders off-target. Particularly when under front-side pressure, Dobbs’ errant throws almost always go left of where he intended.

Short Step into Throw

Josh Dobbs accuracy versus mechanics
Josh Dobbs has issues at times with a properly wide base.

The other glaring issue in his technique also tends to happen mostly when under pressure, even though the image above barely qualifies. When he steps into his throw, he shortens that step considerably — six inches or more — which prevents him from getting his usual zip on the ball. This is a result of a narrow base from which to throw. The narrower base doesn’t allow for as strong of a hip rotation, cutting the torque on the throw considerably.

The end result is a ball that has to be lofted more, and these balls end up going over receivers’ heads — and, when playing a team with a halfway competent center-fielder, will likely result in an interception at some point.

The good news, though, is both issues can be coached out, whereas throwing motions are much harder to fix — just ask Tim Tebow. Footwork, though, can be more easily retrained. In fact, if you watch film from Dobbs’ pro day, you see that he has already been putting solid effort into correcting these problems.

Dobbs is in a great situation, where he won’t have to set foot on a field in his rookie year, barring injuries to both Roethlisberger and, presumably, his backup Landry Jones. Dobbs has time to continue working on these issues. For this reason, it would be utterly insane to write off Dobbs as the team’s potential, long-term backup going forward—at least until we see what progress he can make in correcting a few relatively minor issues.

In a few years, we might even look back wondering how we didn’t see a franchise quarterback in him sooner.