With his 21-day practice exemption period expiring, veteran offensive tackle Demar Dotson will finally be rejoining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 53-man roster.
On Monday, the Buccaneers activated Dotson from the reserve/designated for return list, making him eligible to play in the remaining eight games of the season. To make room on the active roster for Dotson's return, the team released veteran cornerback Tim Jennings.
Dotson has not played since suffering a knee injury in the 2015 preseason opener at Minnesota on August 15. However, he has been practicing with the team since that 21-day period began on October 20. This week, the Buccaneers had to make a decision to either put Dotson back on the active roster or, if he was still not healthy enough to play, place him on injured reserve for the remainder of the season.
The reserve/designated for return category is really just a list of one. Generally, players who are placed on injured reserve are out for the balance of the season. However, each team is granted one designated-for-return option each season. The player that gets that tag can begin practicing after six weeks have passed from the time he was placed on the list, and can return after eight weeks have passed. The Buccaneers had the option to activate Dotson for last Sunday's game against the Giants but chose to wait one more week.
Before he sustained his knee injury in August, Dotson had started 47 consecutive games for the Buccaneers. He had a three-game cameo at left tackle at the end of the 2014 season but was ticketed to start back on the right side in 2015 after the team drafted Penn State's Donovan Smith to man the left side. Dotson had excelled at his original position, ranking second among NFL right tackles on the Pro Football Focus grading chart in 2013 and ninth in 2014.
After Dotson's injury, the Buccaneers signed veteran free agent Gosder Cherilus to play right tackle, and Cherilus has played every snap at that spot through the first eight games of the season. Tampa Bay's offensive line has been a bright spot through an up-and-down first half of 2015, blocking for the league's fifth-ranked rushing attack and allowing just 14 sacks of rookie quarterback Jameis Winston.
Photos from Buccaneers vs. Giants at Raymond James Stadium.
In that regard, Dotson's return is a matter of adding strength to strength. However, it might also be a perfectly-timed addition for the Buccaneers, given that standout rookie guard Ali Marpet suffered an ankle injury in Sunday's game. While it is not yet clear whether Marpet will miss any additional game time, the Buccaneers will welcome the added depth on the offensive line. Veteran Evan Smith stepped in for Marpet against the Giants, but that left the Buccaneers with only one more O-Line reserve on the 53-man roster in second-year tackle Kevin Pamphile. Since Pamphile has already demonstrated that he can play guard as well, the Bucs would still have both the edges and the interior line covered for next Sunday's game in the event that Smith has to play for Marpet again.
And, of course, Dotson may step directly back into the lineup. Dotson has obviously shown that he can play right tackle at a high level, but the overall success of the Buccaneers' O-Line at least gives the team the option to ease him back into action if that proves to be the best course of action. Head Coach Lovie Smith is not likely to identify the starter at right tackle until he's had the week to further evaluate the situation.
Jennings signed with the Buccaneers just before the start of the regular season after he had been released by the Chicago Bears. He had played the previous five seasons in Chicago, including three (2010-12) under Lovie Smith. With the Buccaneers, Jennings saw action in six games with three starts and contributed 17 tackles, one tackle for loss, one pass defensed and one fumble recovery.