Not everything goes to plan.
If the Pittsburgh Steelers had their way, rookie offensive guard Kevin Dotson wouldn't have started on Sunday, with a presumably healthy David DeCastro, Matt Feiler or Stefen Wisniewski ahead of the Louisiana product. In an offseason that featured mini-camps done through video calls and no preseason games to prepare for the regular season, there were concerns (especially for younger players) about their preparedness for the 2020 season.
After his first start at the highest level of football on the planet, Dotson played as if the plan was for him to start the entire season.
Dotson's play on the field (or playing for his childhood) dream team earned him a game ball, awarded from no other than quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The ball is for Dotson's father, who raised him to bleed black and gold like those who watched Dotson take the field for them on Sunday.
"He told me his dad watches it in his man cave upstairs," Roethlisberger said after the game. "I was just so happy that he got out there and got the play. I gave the ball to him afterwards and told him to give it to his old man."
Dotson, despite slipping to the fourth-round, received quite the amount of hype after being drafted to Pittsburgh. After getting a small taste of action towards the end of week one, we finally have tape to analyze on the rookie offensive guard. What did Dotson do well? What can he improve ahead of another possible start next Sunday?
Grab your popcorn, maybe even some Twizzlers (snack choice of yours truly) and let's get the projector rollin' on this week's film room:
Dotson's Week Two Film
For me, it's always interesting to watch a player's first rep in the league, just to see how they are and how they move. While this isn't Dotson's first rep or first snap as a starter, this was his first actual play following the short Diontae Johnson fumble. The Steelers run a quick draw play out of the shotgun, as the line's job is to drop into what is supposed to look like pass protection for just a second before advancing to their blocks to catch the defense out of position.
There's nothing special here, but Dotson (#69, left of the center) does an excellent job of selling the drop back and allowing the defensive tackle to advance upfield, taking him out of the play.
The below play doesn't appear to be much, but I value instincts and intelligence for offensive linemen, and I think the small snippet below displays exactly that for Dotson.
When Dotson drops back in pass protection, he finds himself without an assignment immediately. Dotson sees Pouncey handling his own business, so he turns his attention to right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor. While still maintaining his inside position, he slides over to the right after Okorafor is beat and would have been there for the block, should Roethlisberger have needed more time.
Roethlisberger found an open receiver early, so there was no true danger in Okorafor being beat. However, I do value Dotson's anticipation to be there just in case while staying true to his own position. Plays like that may prove pivotal down the stretch, even if it seems minor in the moment.
Later, Dotson paved the way for a James Conner touchdown. I slowed the video below down since the play was so short.
Upon the snap, Okorafor slides to the defensive tackle in the gap, leaving Dotson free to climb to the next level. Dotson gives said defensive tackle a little chip before taking on the next defender. At this point, Conner already has the ball and picks to run behind Dotson. Dotson moves his assignment accordingly, creating an opening for Conner to follow to the end zone.
Dotson was highly touted for his run-blocking coming out of college, but his pass protection was fairly solid on Sunday, especially on the following rep.
Blocking one-on-one, Dotson sinks his hips and blocks the defensive linemen's attempt to pull/swim and goes a great job of laterally moving to not get out of position. Dotson then is able to swing his hips outside and give Roethlisberger more of a pocket to work with, effectively taking his man out of the pass rush.
Phenomenal rep there from Dotson.
Yet in the fourth quarter, it was Dotson's run-blocking that came up big for the Steelers. With under 13 minutes left and the Steelers only leading by three, a conversion on 4th down helped keep a Steelers drive alive that eventually ended in a score. The play was a Randy Fichtner special, a shovel pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster running underneath the offensive line.
Dotson's first step is inside, which causes the defensive tackle to also step inside (thinking a run up the middle may have been coming). Dotson then is able to hold him inside while Smith-Schuster finds plenty of green grass to run to on his side of the ball. The flow of the play/play-call definitely won the down, but Dotson's block was key in ensuring it was carried out successfully.
Prior to last Sunday, I was a bit worried about Dotson/Okorafor anchoring the right side of the offensive line. After re-watching Dotson, I walk away very impressed with what appears to be the first of many starts in black and gold.
For a guy who was hailed as a mauler in the run game, his pass protection is what stuck out most to me. He consistently keeps his head on a swivel, looking for any potential danger and does a great job of upholding the integrity of the pocket. Dotson was used as a pulling guard on three snaps, yet all three of them didn't produce anything film-worthy, as the play-calls went the other way. Dotson wasn't given the opportunity to get out and space and utilize his tenacious blocking abilities, yet we should see that sooner rather than later.
As for improvements, Dotson was a little too reliant on placing his hands on the outside of shoulder pads when blocking, which may lead to more holding calls. Dotson, preferably, will need to work on initial hand placement to prevent any potential penalties. There were also times where Dotson's block, although away from the play, eventually made a tackle across. While not huge, if Dotson is looking for improvements to his game, backside blocking is a minor one.
Overall, Dotson performed extremely well, and the game ball awarded from Roethlisberger (albeit for Dotson's father) is deserved. Dotson's future playing time remains entirely questionable and dependent on the health of guys such as David DeCastro. Should DeCastro need more time to heal, I would assume Dotson would retain his starting role due to level of play, especially considering Wisniewski's lone sample size with the Steelers wasn't impressive.
With both guard spots being occupied at full health, Dotson will be limited to the bench should the Steelers remain confident in Okorafor's play at right tackle. However, the Steelers now know Dotson is capable of stepping up to the plate when called upon despite being a rookie. Should any guard position open up, Dotson may be the leading candidate to see himself plugged in as the starter.