It seemed inevitable that rookie offensive lineman Kevin Dotson would become a starter at some point this season.
Dotson is not just your average, Sun-Belt conference offensive lineman, he was one of the most accomplished linemen in this year's draft class. Perhaps it was fitting with injuries plaguing the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line, that Dotson would eventually find himself as a starter. On Sunday, Dotson made his first start against the Denver Broncos, playing in every offensive snap.
When viewing Dotson on film, not only did we see a rookie with veteran-like poise, he played an important role in strengthening their run offense. Based on what was viewed, Dotson may prove to be an essential piece to the Steelers offensive line going forward.
There are few rookie linemen as proficient in this type of blocking as Dotson. During his senior year with the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns, their run offense produced as many yards per game, as any other unit in the nation. The anchor of that ground offense was Dotson, who earned him first team All-American status by the Associated Press.
In his game against the Broncos, we saw many of the attributes that made him a successful pass blocker in college. Firstly, his pad level. Dotson has consistently shown the ability to remain lower than the opposition, keep his power at a base. Secondly, his hand placement. In the touchdown sequence seen in the clip, Dotson did an excellent job getting his hands underneath the opposing lineman's pads. Thirdly, his natural strength which enables him to impose his will.
The combination of proper technique and raw power was best exemplified on this play, as he created the opening needed for Conner to score the game's first touchdown.
The principle reason why Dotson had success in one-on-one situations, was proper use of fundamentals. As noted previously, Dotson is consistent with his use of proper pad level and hand placement. The additional aspect is his lower body strength, which was known for in college. The combination of all these things should enable Dotson to win the majority of his battles going forward.
In this sequence seen below, the Steelers are showing an unbalanced formation, with tight ends Eric Ebron and Vance McDonald aligned on the left side. One would assume with this formation, Conner was likely to take any open gaps on the overloaded side. In this instance, what should be noted, is the gap created by Dotson on the right. When the ball is snapped, Dotson establishes a dominant position over the opposing Broncos lineman, then comfortably seals him outside, creating a nice gap for Conner to go through. One of the many instances where Dotson won battles in the trenches.
In instances where Dotson had no pass rushers coming his way, he was very active in providing additional support for his teammates. In the example seen below, the Broncos defensive lineman engaged with third-year tackle Chuks Okorafor, was in the proper position to change directions inside. Dotson in this case shows excellent awareness, engages with the lineman, closing the inside path and providing additional support for Okorafor.
The most impressive aspect of Dotson's performance Sunday, was how comfortable he was against seasoned veterans. As expected, there were a few mistakes, but Dotson played a significant role in keeping Roethlisberger protected while supporting the run. No matter the injury situation, the Steelers can take solace in knowing that they have a rookie who can perform at a high level.