With David DeCastro ruled out for today’s game against the Cleveland Browns, it marks another significant opportunity for rookie guard Kevin Dotson, who will be making his second career start in just his fifth game, having seen action in three of the first four, including extensive playing time in two of them.
DeCastro, the veteran ninth-year guard, suffered an abdominal injury early in last week’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles. That left it up to Dotson to fill in off the bench for the remainder of the game. While he did draw two penalties—the Steelers’ first offensive holding and illegal man down the field calls of the year—he also had several plays that really stood out.
In fact, I would estimate that this amounts to a critical opportunity for Dotson. If he hasn’t already, if he performs well again today, I suspect that he will have secured for himself the permanent role as the Steelers’ top backup guard until the day comes that he lands a starting job.
The Steelers’ backup guard this season, of course, was supposed to be veteran Pittsburgh native Stefen Wisniewski. He started the season opener in DeCastro’s place, only to suffer a pectoral injury late in the game, which required that Dotson check in for the last handful of snaps.
He started the following game against the Denver Broncos and played well, having been credited with not allowing a single pressure in pass protection from Pro Football Focus. Last week, even before DeCastro went down, the Steelers also used him for one rep on the goal line as an extra blocker.
The Louisiana-Lafayette product has already answered a lot of questions so far as a rookie fourth-round pick. Really, at this point, the biggest question remaining is how he managed to go without a Combine invitation—which even those who ran it have since acknowledge was a mistake on their part.
Of course, we shouldn’t be overselling what anybody achieves in their first four games. It’s a long season, after all, and with many more to follow. But we can only go on what we have so far, and Dotson has been nothing short of impressive, all things considered, and is showing the traits of a future starter.
Realistically, that opportunity could come as early as 2021, with the Steelers facing a salary cap crunch and a trio of offensive linemen hitting unrestricted free agency, including left guard Matt Feiler. With all they have to manage, re-signing Feiler will not be a priority, and may not even be something that they could logistically afford.
The Steelers knew the time would be coming when they will have to begin to replenish their offensive line. They added Chukwuma Okorafor in the third round in 2018, and he has been starting at right tackle since week two and settling into that role. Dotson could well be the next new face to move into the starting five, and today could be a key piece of the audition tape.