Demar Dotson is not the first basketball player to attempt a transition to the NFL without ever really focusing on football in college, San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates being the most prominent example. Heck, Dotson wasn't even the first hoopster-turned-gridiron grinder in Friday night's preseason game between the Tampa Bay, who played basketball at NAIA Westminster College
Cross-sport scouting can make sense, and it's no surprise that NFL executives would take a look at big and agile athletes like basketball forwards. Most of the time it's an experiment that doesn't quite catch on. Occasionally, as with Gates and Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas, it works out.
Chasing the NFL dream has definitely worked out for Dotson, who doesn't quite fit into the Gates/Thomas mold in that he did play six games of college football as a senior. That half a season was spent at defensive tackle, but he's playing on the offensive line in Tampa. Dotson has spent three seasons in the NFL already and is very likely to make the Buccaneers' roster for a fourth campaign in 2012. That's already a success story.
That doesn't mean Dotson's basketball-to-NFL transition is complete, however. While the Buccaneers obviously remain intrigued with his talents, Dotson has yet to see any meaningful time in the regular season on the offensive line. Last year, he played in 13 games as a reserve and was most commonly used on offense as an extra tight end in jumbo blocking packages.
Dotson may or may not get his opportunity in 2012, as the Buccaneers have two well-established starting tackle in Donald Penn and Jeremy Trueblood. But it's important to the team that he demonstrate that he could handle a big role if needed. Friday's game in Miami, in which he started at left tackle in place of the injured Penn, was a big step in that direction.
"There are certain things that fundamentally he's got to get better at, but it's a great story," said Buccaneers Head Coach Greg Schiano. "What did he play, one year, and it was defensive line in college, now he's a starting left tackle in an NFL football game? Good for him. And he's a guy you root for because he works his tail off. He's got a great attitude, a great team guy. You love when guys like that do well."
Dotson started on Friday and stayed in the game a little longer than most of the team's offensive starters. Tampa Bay ran for 56 yards and two touchdowns in the first half and didn't allow a single sack of quarterbacks Josh Freeman and Dan Orlovsky. With Penn expected to return before too long, Dotson's likely role is as the Bucs' swing tackle, capable of ably stepping in on the right or left side. Of course, that job means he's one unfortunate mishap away from starting in the NFL, and the Bucs may now have more confidence than ever that he can do so.
"You know what, I thought he did a solid job," said Schiano. "I'm sure he will use this experience as a reaching-out or stepping-out point. I hope that's what he'll do with it."