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Tomlin Hints Dotson Likely To Remain Starter Once Feiler Returns From Injury

We’ll find out on Wednesday if Pittsburgh Steelers guard Matt Feiler will resume practicing this week after being on the team’s Reserve/Injured list since the middle of December with a pectoral injury. If that happens, it will at least set up the possibility that Feiler could resume starting at left guard in Sunday’s home Super Wild Card game against the Cleveland Browns. On Tuesday, however, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin talked about the possibility of Feiler resuming practicing this week. Later during his press conference, he was asked if Feiler might go back to starting at left guard and thus replacing rookie guard Kevin Dotson, who has played well since taking over at the position.

“That doesn’t become a component of play unless [Matt] Feiler is viable,” Tomlin said. “Until Feiler becomes viable, I won’t spend a lot of times pondering those things.”

That’s one way of sidestepping an uncomfortable question. Even so, Tomlin hinted earlier in his press conference when talking about Feiler and inside linebacker Robert Spillane both possibly resuming practice this week that neither is guaranteed to resume their pre-injury statuses.

“The inclusion, or the potential of inclusion, of those guys is exciting, but it also creates some challenges in terms of decision-making standpoint because we just feel like we’ve got some options,” Tomlin said on Tuesday. “The guys that played in place of some of those guys have done some good work for us. That is a good problem to have as we prepare this week. I know having a plethora of capable guys is not a detriment to us as we get in this single elimination tournament.”

Late during his Tuesday question and answer session, Tomlin was again asked to give his thoughts on Dotson and another player, cornerback Cameron Sutton, because of both seeing extensive playing time the last several games.

“I think both guys have been more than adequate,” Tomlin said. “They have helped our cause; they have helped their cause from a career standpoint. I have confidence in both guys regardless of what we ask them to do this weekend.”

While Tomlin did not come right out and say it, count on Dotson being the Steelers starting left guard against the Browns on Sunday and even if Feiler is healthy enough to suit up for that contest. Dotson, the team’s fourth-round selection this year out of Louisiana Lafayette, has been great so far in his playing time at both guard spots this season, He’s played so well that Pro Football Focus named him to their 2020 All-Rookie Team a few days ago.

“Dotson allowed just one pressure — a hurry — the entire season in 206 pass-blocking snaps,” PFF writes. “That 0.5% pressure rate allowed is the lowest by any rookie offensive lineman with at least 150 pass-blocking snaps in the past 10 seasons. Ben Roethlisberger getting the ball out as quickly as he did play a role there, but Dotson deserves his credit, as well.”

Dotson is the Steelers future starting left guard while Feiler, who was the staring left guard before suffering his pectoral injury, is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after the season. As good as Feiler was at right tackle in 2018 and 2019, his move to left guard this season didn’t go as well from a performance standpoint.

Currently, the Steelers backup guards behind Dotson and right guard David DeCastro are J.C. Hassenauer and Danny Isidora, who was signed away from the Kansas City chiefs practice squad less than a month ago. Getting Feiler back to be the top guard backup on Sunday would be great. Feiler, for a lack of a better description, got Wally Pipped by Dotson while he was out injured.

Tomlin can twist his responses however he wants but putting Feiler back in the starting lineup at left guard in place of the rookie Dotson is not the move he should make, and I think he knows that.

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