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Why the Steelers shouldn’t give up on Kevin Dotson

The Steelers young guard hasn’t been great, but he deserves another chance in 2023.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers have a good young quarterback in Kenny Pickett, and he has shown flashes that he could be a very good starting quarterback for the foreseeable future. Whenever a young talent at his position emerges, one of the first things fans start to worry about is protecting him. And that means upgrading the offensive line.

One of the targets of fan interest in upgrading the line is Kevin Dotson. As Dave Schofield pointed out in his Exit Interview series, only one player in the entire NFL had more penalties called on them in 2022 than Kevin Dotson. PFF credits Dotson with 4 sacks allowed, the second most on the team behind only Dan Moore Jr. That right there is enough to condemn a player, and I understand you don’t want a lineman that is going to set back your offense with penalties and give up sacks. Those are bad things. You want a lineman that can consistently do things like block high end defensive tackles one-on-one and keep the pocket clear for the quarterback, like this:

Watch the right guard, #69.

You also want a guard who consistently opens lanes for running backs, like this:

Watch the right guard, #69.

Even as his arm is trapped by the defensive tackle he’s able to get a hand on the linebacker and keep him out of the play. That’s the kind of guard you want.

As I’m sure most of you already know, that’s Kevin Dotson. These clips are from Week 2 of 2020, Dotson’s first start in the NFL. The guard we all want to have on this team, Kevin Dotson was that guy. He’d play right guard a bit but when David DeCastro returned Dotson slid over to left guard where he would play much more that season.

He played well enough that it warranted questioning why he lost the starting job when the veterans came back late in the season. PFF graded Dotson the second best lineman on the 2020 Steelers as a rookie, behind only Alejandro Villenueva.

His offensive line coach for that 2020 season was Shaun Sarrett, a Munchak assistant who took over the veteran line and tried to continue what Munchak had built. But in 2020, with younger linemen coming to the forefront, the Steelers decided to go in a different direction and promoted Adrian Klemm, a more motivational line coach to start the Steelers youth movement on the offensive line. 2021 saw the Steelers add two rookies, Kendrick Green and Dan Moore Jr. to the line, and not just add them in the mix, they would end up starting Week 1 of 2021. Kevin Dotson went from Shaun Sarrett as a coach with veterans Maurkice Pouncey and Alejandro Villenueva on each side of him to Adrian Klemm coaching him and playing between two rookies.

The 2021 Steelers offensive line was plagued with bad teamwork, poor technique and even looking timid. Kevin Dotson was not an exception.

Kevin Dotson is the left guard, #69.

I mean, look at the whole left side of the line, they have three lineman on two pass rushers, they successfully block neither of them. You can see Dotson is playing timid here, keeping his hands down and when he does engage, it looks very timid and the defensive tackle beats it easily. It was just as bad in the run game.

Kevin Dotson, #69 is the guard to the top of the screen.

Anyone who remembers Najee Harris’s rookie campaign remembers how many runs were like this. Honestly, the best block on this play is from the two defenders crashing into each other.

Adrian Klemm was clearly not the answer and did not finish the season with the Steelers. The Steelers brought in Pat Meyers to be their offensive line coach and brought in Mason Cole and James Daniels to give a little bit more veteran presence and scheme fit to the line.

Everyone remembers the struggles in the preseason, and the early season results weren’t good either.

Kevin Dotson is the guard to the right side of the screen.

Chukwuma Okorafor and Kevin Dotson were on their fourth offensive line coach in three seasons, Dan Moore Jr. his third in two seasons, while Mason Cole and James Daniels were learning a new system and playing with new players. The entire line was starting from scratch, and Pat Meyer spent a lot of the offseason trying to repair the damage that had been done the previous season.

The early season struggles, and growth over the season shows up in Kevin Dotson’s statistics. In the first 8 games of the season, Dotson gave up three sacks and had seven penalties accepted. After the bye week, in the remaining 9 games, Dotson gave up one sack (Week 10 vs. the Saints, zero in the final 8 games) and had 4 accepted penalties.

While the line wasn’t perfect the second half of the season, the pass blocking went from awful to acceptable and the run blocking really came together.

Kevin Dotson is the guard to the right side of the screen.

That looks a lot more like 2020 Kevin Dotson.

Kevin Dotson is the guard to the right side of the screen.

This is outside zone, one of the biggest weaknesses in Kevin Dotson’s game. But by the end of the season, here he is getting to the linebacker and giving enough of a push to get the runner some extra yards.

While Kevin Dotson has been frustratingly inconsistent in his three seasons with the Steelers, he has shown the talent to be a really good offensive lineman, and the circumstances of his first three seasons in the NFL deserve to be considered when he is being judged.

Steeler fans can see the value in keeping Matt Canada around (even if they hate his offense) because you don’t want your young quarterback facing a constantly changing offense as he is adapting to the NFL. We understand the value of consistent good coaching for receivers, running backs, etc. Offensive lineman are no different.

The Steelers appear to have found an offensive line coach that fits their offense and linemen better, and I for one am excited to see what that will mean for the growth of this young line, and especially Kevin Dotson, going forward.