KNOXVILLE — When he landed in California to train with renowned quarterback guru George Whitfield in May, Josh Dobbs expected he'd pick up some pointers to become better at the position.
What the Tennessee sophomore didn't expect to see was his top competition for the Volunteers' starting job there chasing the same goal.
Dobbs and Justin Worley, the two quarterbacks vying to be the starter as Tennessee opens preseason practice tonight, each traveled more than 2,000 miles and paid his own way to attend Whitfield's training camp with 14 other college quarterbacks.
And neither Vol knew the other one would be there.
"We were actually at the introduction dinner, and I got there first, so I was sitting down and I was talking with Coach Whitfield when I saw Justin coming up," Dobbs recalled Thursday afternoon as the Vols reported for training camp.
"I had heard Justin might be there, but obviously I hadn't had contact with him at that point. When he walked up, it was a pleasant surprise to see a familiar face there."
Neither Worley, the senior who won the starting job last August, nor Dobbs, the oddball aerospace engineering major who finished last season after Worley was injured, would admit to their initial camp encounter being awkward, but the situation certainly would appear to be that way.
After all, the two players are aiming for the same position, with redshirt sophomore Nathan Peterman on the outside looking in.
"I was surprised," Worley said, "but like Josh said, we're both trying to get better. Coach Whitfield does some unique things, but he also does some things that are reciprocated by Coach Jake [Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian]. We're both trying to get better, and that was an opportunity for us, and we took it."
Whitfield "doesn't really like" tutoring two quarterbacks from the same program at once, Worley said, but the two Vols spent most of the time split into different groups training that week.
"He kind of praised us for competing against each other and working together as well," Worley added.
"We weren't really in the same group a lot," Dobbs said, "but when we were, we were definitely pushing each other to continue to get better and learning and taking in as much as we could throughout the week."
Whitfield's previous pupils include Pro Bowl quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Cam Newton and NFL rookies Johnny Manziel, Aaron Murray and Tajh Boyd. This summer's list included Baylor's Bryce Petty, Notre Dame's Everett Golson, Michigan State's Connor Cook, Texas Tech's Davis Webb, Kentucky's Patrick Towles and LSU's Brandon Harris.
Dobbs said Whitfield and Bajakian "kind of echo other" in what and how they teach the position, and not long after returning from the camp, Tennessee's quarterbacks were in the meeting rooms with Bajakian as the Vols took advantage of a new rule allowing limited contact between players and coaches during the summer months.
"We definitely took advantage of our time with the coaches this offseason," Worley said. "He's pretty fired up every time you walk into the classroom and real intense. A lot of it's kind of been a recap of some old things just to kind of refresh our minds, but we definitely took advantage of our time with him.
"It helps a lot, just having somebody to ask questions to, because in the past it was really on us and we were leading the offense and leading the receivers. [The coaches] have been a little more hands-on, but still, there's been a lot of opportunities for us to get the receivers by ourselves or teach different offensive groups different plays and things like that."
Worley's travels continued in July, when he attended the Manning Passing Academy in Louisiana in July for a second straight year. The setting there has him there more as a counselor than a competitor, but he impressed when he and the roughly 40 college quarterbacks in attendance had throwing sessions.
"Both Archie and Peyton [Manning] texted me and said, 'Hey, great job at the camp and really appreciate you coming out and good luck this season,'" Worley said. "Just hearing that from a couple of Hall of Fame guys is incredible. I was just trying to go and make some sort of impact, whether it's for the campers or for those guys."
Dobbs, listed at 193 pounds in Tennessee's 2013 media guide, is up to 216 and noticeably more chiseled, while Worley said this is the "best I've felt" in his career.
The only traveling Dobbs and Worley will do in August will be to Haslam Field, and this time both know who will be there.
"Of course we're friends off the field," Dobbs said.
"When you're on the field," he added, "your goal is to do the best you can every day."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...