Although he did play a handful of snaps at the end of the season opener against the New York Giants after Stefen Wisniewski went down with an injury, Kevin Dotson made his NFL starting debut for the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday against the Denver Broncos.
That scenario came about only due to a string of injuries, starting with a knee injury suffered by David DeCastro in training camp that forced him to sit out the first two games of the regular season. They are only the third and fourth games that he has missed going back to his rookie year in 2012.
Wisniewski started the opener in his place, signed in free agency in March to take over as the interior reserve, but once he went down, the only remaining interior linemen were Dotson and J.C. Hassenauer, a first-year player who has no NFL snaps and is primarily a center.
So that’s how a rookie fourth-round pick out of a small school with no preseason experience ended up in the starting lineup for the Steelers in Week Two. But as he made clear to reporters earlier in the week, he was far from alone, citing a number of teammates who helped make him comfortable.
“Definitely Maurkice. He’s definitely the leader. I follow him wherever he says. Whatever he wants me to do, I tweak my game to it”, he said of Pouncey, one of the team captains. He also mentioned Chukwuma Okorafor, who started alongside him.
“Chuks definitely was a big help. Really the entire o-line were just talking about helping me to just be comfortable in the game”, he said. “And another thing about me being nervous—I don’t really get too nervous about playing in games. I get more nervous about something else, like real-life-type situations. I think I’ve done football long enough to know what could possibly happen, enough to not get nervous”.
Dotson’s debut has already drawn praise, particularly for his work in pass protection, but it’s looking like this will be his only start for a while, as according to Mike Tomlin, David DeCastro is expected back this week, meaning he will be back in the starting lineup.
But Dotson will remain the top backup guard at least until Wisniewski returns from injured reserve, which may not be for several weeks. Even when he does get back, it’s possible they will continue to view Dotson as the top backup guard and Wisniewski as the top backup center.
It’s also just one game, something that should be kept in mind. He played well, and it was a good start, but there is certainly room for improvement, and the sample size is too small to draw meaningful conclusions from. He could start another game later this year and look awful. I wouldn’t anticipate that happening, but you never know.