Kevin Dotson is this season's Pittsburgh Steelers elephant in the room.
First, let me offer a definition for the phrase: a major problem or controversial issue that is obviously present but avoided as a subject for discussion because it is more comfortable to do so.
Now that the meaning of the phrase has hopefully been clarified, I will attempt to convey my thoughts and observations on the matter. My reasoning, if you will.
Kevin Dotson was the Steelers’ best offensive lineman in 2021, by a wide margin, although it was a really low bar.
Dotson was a stabilizing presence for the two rookie starters playing on either side of him; left tackle Dan Moore Jr. and center Kendrick Green. Actually, Green's performance jumped the shark once Dotson missed some games late in the season due to injury.
So why do I feel Dotson has gone from being the Steelers best lineman to possibly the worst fit on the projected starting offensive line?
Dotson was a fourth round selection for the Steelers in the 2020 NFL Draft out of Louisiana-Lafayette, basically where he was projected to be taken. He was considered an exceptional run blocker; who was well versed in zone, gap, and power schemes. A powerful and physical blocker, he was lauded for his intelligence and feel for the game.
The reason Dotson fell to Day 3 of the draft is because of his limited athleticism and mobility more than anything, especially his lateral movement. This concern, coupled with a top heavy physique and a lack of knee bend, left many scouts convinced he was a great fit for a power blocking scheme, but less than ideal for a zone scheme, particularly for outside zone concepts.
I immediately assumed the Steelers were going to implement a more power based rushing attack with Dotson's selection, plus the promotion of Adrian Klemm. The Klemm experiment was an absolute failure, and the Steelers hired Pat Meyer as their new offensive line coach. Meyer's hiring, plus the Steelers commitment to fully install Matt Canada's playbook, would seem to suggest the team is moving to more of a zone blocking scheme.
All of the Steelers offensive free agency signings fit this assumption. Newcomers James Daniels and Mason Cole have proven capabilities in zone concepts, and there is hope that zone blocking will be an improved fit for newly re-signed Chukwuma Okorafor. Even second year linemen Dan Moore Jr. and Kendrick Green seem like excellent fits for the change in philosophy. Their abilities, especially lateral mobility, fit the scheme. It only makes sense.
That's why I am shocked more people aren't talking about Dotson being less than an ideal candidate for the job moving forward. I thought maybe it was just me, so I reached out to two of my BTSC brethren, K.T. Smith and Geoffrey Benedict, for their opinions. Not surprisingly, we are all of a similar mindset. A couple of their observations were particularly informative and enlightening.
Both of my esteemed colleagues mentioned former Steelers standout guard Ramon Foster as a comparison for Dotson. Geoffrey Benedict went so far as to say anything Foster used to do, Dotson can do, only nastier.
K.T. Smith said he believes Dotson can be a good inside zone and gap blocker, coupled with his excellent power game. He acknowledged Dotson may struggle if the Steelers transition to a more outside zone team, due to the aforementioned balance and lateral movement limitations.
Basically, we were all in agreement in our evaluations.
There were unconfirmed rumors about the Steelers being more than a little displeased with Dotson in the early portion of training camp and the preseason in 2021. One prominent rumor suggested the issue was with his conditioning, but that was neither confirmed nor denied by the team. I heard a rumor from someone in the know that the Steelers were not upset about his conditioning, but with the focus of his training. He focused more on his power, but not enough on his footwork and lateral movement. Again unconfirmed, but it was obvious Tomlin was less than pleased with the situation.
The great news is the Steelers offense is going to be built around Najee Harris for the near future, and Harris is more of a inside zone runner. The Steelers will utilize their newfound team speed, multiple formations, and misdirection to exploit the edges of opposing defenses most likely. The mobility of all the new Steelers signal callers will assist the running game and in pass protection.
I should emphasize how I still believe Dotson will be able to adjust to the change in offensive philosophy, and continue to improve his game as a professional. He should be viewed as a starter moving forward, whether it be on the left or right side of the line.
That being said, I no longer feel he is the Steelers best offensive lineman. That distinction belongs to James Daniels, in my opinion. The Steelers are hoping both players find their footing in the new offense quickly, and form one of the best starting guard tandems in the NFL.