Welcome to The Hook, my weekly column that hooks you into a different Tampa Bay Buccaneers topic each Thursday, as well as some of my thoughts on the Bucs and the NFL at the end in a section called Cannon Blast.
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Demar Dotson showed up in Tampa Bay in 2009 with nothing more than a promise of a tryout.
No guaranteed money.
Just a young, somewhat naive kid from Alexandria, Louisiana, who showed up in Tampa with a couple of changes of clothes and a pair of basketball shoes.
When getting ready for his first practice the Bucs trainer asked him what size cleats he wore. Dotson told him size 18. Tampa Bay didn’t have any that size so the team gave him the biggest pair they, a size 16 and after one practice, Dotson had to cut holes in the toe area of the cleats out so he could get them on his feet.
After another tryout practice during the rookie mini-camp of 2009 – and some bloodied toes – Dotson decided to just wear the basketball shoes he flew to Tampa wearing.
Dotson earned a deal with the Buccaneers after practicing on grass in a pair of plain ol’ Nike basketball shoes.
“Now that I think about it, I kind of wish I had kept those old Nikes,” Dotson said. “It would be a good pair of shoes to still have for the memories.”
That was just the beginning of one of the most unlikely football success stories, not just with the Buccaneers, but maybe in recent NFL history. You might recall that the 6-foot-9 Dotson played basketball at Southern Mississippi, and just one year of football – at defensive tackle where he was primarily used to attempt to block field goals and extra points due to his height and long arms.
Dotson didn’t play football in high school and never played a snap at offensive tackle – until he got to the NFL.
Think about how difficult that was.
Now after 11 seasons of wearing the red and pewter, the next time you see the 34-year old Dotson on a football field, he will likely be wearing different colors.
The Buccaneers signed veteran Joe Haeg this offseason, and drafted Tristan Wirfs in the first round of last month’s NFL Draft to fill Dotson’s spot at right tackle. The recent longest tenured Buccaneer is a man without a place in Tampa Bay. Dotson was essentially handed on a one-way ticket out of Tampa on draft night.
But it doesn’t take away from the journey.
And the impact that No. 69 made.
Hollywood writers would have rejected the story of a basketball player turned 11-year NFL tackle for not being believable enough, especially since entering the league weighing about 265 pounds and having to add 50 pounds of mass to his lanky basketball build over the years.
“It’s crazy when you think about it now,” Dotson said. “I didn’t have any expectations when I came here. I was just a basketball player giving football a shot. Now here we are 11 years later. I have been blessed.”
It was believable because it really happened.
If by chance a Hollywood studio did decide to make a movie based on Dotson’s story, they would embellish the script a little and he would play one more year in Tampa Bay, win a Super Bowl blocking for Tom Brady and ride off into the sunset.
But this isn’t Hollywood.
It’s the NFL where what we perceive to be fair or a happy ending doesn’t really matter.
Organizations will keep a player around – until they can replace him.
It looks like Dotson has been replaced, especially with the recent re-signing of swing tackle Josh Wells, who is five years younger.
“You never say never, but I still think I can start,” Dotson said. “I want to at least be given the opportunity to compete. I don’t want to go through all the training and camps to just be a backup.”
Dotson is used to playing – not watching.
He has played in 130 games with 106 starts – with plenty of friendships made.
“I love Dot,” tight end Cam Brate told me on Wednesday. “I remember when I first got here, he has a different way of talking (being from Louisiana) and it took me a little while to get it. But some of the best memories I have had over the last few years has been getting to know him and listening to him. He is just a great guy to have in your locker room.”
Brate continued laughing as he recalled some of his favorite Dotson stories.
“I remember (former running back) Bobby Rainey, who was the smallest guy on the team, and Dotson, who was the biggest, going at it with him. Those locker room bickerings and going after each other were the best. They constantly went after each other. And it was great to see.
“And l would say even now, Demar is still – pound for pound – the strongest guy on the team. People have no idea how strong he is and how hard he worked in the weight room. And he was dominant at times. He might have been a disadvantage in the run game somewhat because he was so tall (6-foot-9), but he could dominate at times.”
Dotson laughed when I told him what Brate said.
“Me and Bobby had fun, a lot of fun going back and forth,” Dotson said. “But I’ve made a lot of friends over 11 years. I couldn’t have imagined I would have spent 11 years in Tampa Bay when I first got here.”
Someone else who appreciates Dotson is Bucs G.M. Jason Licht.
“It is hard to put into words just what Demar has meant to this organization, both on the field and in the locker room,” Licht said. “‘Dot’ has been a true professional in every sense of the word and he anchored our right tackle position for over a decade. As important as he has been for us on the field, his leadership in the locker room and the meeting rooms has had an even larger impact on our young players who have grown up in our system like Donovan Smith, Ali Marpet and Alex Cappa.
“Dot also has a huge heart and his work in and around our community over the past decade, especially with community programs like our Turkey Time with the O-Line, is just remarkable.”
His coaches and general managers have loved Dotson obviously, at least for the previous 11 seasons, and Dotson told me the respect was mutual.
“I’ve liked all my coaches honestly,” Dotson said. “Raheem (Morris) is one of my favorites because he gave me a chance to play in the NFL. And Dirk Koetter was a good head coach. I liked Dirk because he was a straight shooter. He just told you the truth and I respected that.”
But what about Greg “Toes on the Line” Schiano?
“Mark, you’ll never hear me talk bad about Schiano,” Dotson said. “Raheem gave me a chance on the team but Schiano gave me a chance to be a starter. I never had an argument or disagreement, he never cursed me out. I was raised to respect your coaches. To submit to their authority. I respected all my coaches.”
Reporters aren’t allowed to play favorites. But it sure is hard to not like Dotson and want to see him succeed. I started covering the Buccaneers on a full time basis in 2011, Demar became a full-time starter the following year. I cut my teeth covering this gentle giant of a man.
There wasn’t once a single time I called Dotson needing a favor and he didn’t come through. From quotes on a story I was working on, to a charity event PewterReport.com was having, to doing a live podcast taping. Dotson was dependable on the field – and for me – off of the field, too. No one made me laugh more than Dotson on a mundane Thursday afternoon open locker room session in the middle of a season going nowhere like Dotson could.
The end of Dotson’s run in Tampa Bay is virtually over, although Licht said the door isn’t completely shut just yet.
“We never close the door on future possibilities, but he is a free agent and has earned the right to see what is out there for him,” Licht said. “I wish him nothing but the best, regardless of where he ends up.”
Dotson is holding out hope that a new team will call his agent.
“I’ve had some discussions with some teams and offers, but they weren’t right,” Dotson said. “But just like I trusted God 11 years ago, I have to trust him now. I am 100 percent content to just walk away and head into retirement if that’s where He leads me.
“I have been blessed over my career and will miss the Bucs fans. Not the fair-weathered ones that jump on the bandwagon – but the hardcore ones. Like Miss Jackie (Riles), Buc Nasty (Keith Kunzig), Priscilla (Williams) – the ones who were there through thick or thin. The ones who were fans at 2-14 just like if we had been in the playoffs. They made a difference to me and I will miss them.”
Life after football is uncertain, but Dotson has a strong faith in a higher power to guide him. He also has a ton of life-long friends he made in the locker room, in the stands and even in the media with the PewterReport.com team.
Football is a business. It will chew you up and spit you when it’s through with you and remind you that life isn’t always fair.
Yet Dotson isn’t bitter over the Bucs opting to go in a different direction.
“I’ve been blessed,” Dotson said. “I think I can still play and would if it is the right situation. Maybe as camp gets closer. Maybe even after camp, then a team will need me. But like I said, I am 100 percent content to walk away and head into retirement if that is what is the plan. I never thought I’d be an NFL player, much less have an 11-year career.
I’ve been truly blessed to cover Demar Dotson.
Cook’s musings and ramblings about the Buccaneers and the NFL. Good stuff. Check it out.
• The Bucs schedule came out last week and as expected, the NFL schedule makers believe the nation wants to see more red and pewter this year. Signing Tom Brady will do that. Tampa Bay has five nationally television games in prime time, but surprisingly the season opener against the Saints didn’t make the cut.
I am not sure how the league figured more people would want to see the Cowboys taking on the Rams on Sunday Night Football on NBC instead of the Buccaneers with Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski traveling to New Orleans to take on Drew Brees, Michael Thomas and the Saints.
The two teams will face off on November 8 on Sunday night in front of the nation on NBC, but not opening weekend? That’s a bit of a head-scratcher.
• The NFL is still gung-ho it appears to get a full 16-game schedule in. That is good news for NFL fans but there are a lot of questions that still remain. Peter King interviewed Dr. Anthony Fauci in his Monday column this week and came away with some ideas about how the league might have to adjust to the COVID-19 situation.
One of the scenarios is to play games with no fans, or limited fans in attendance. And what about the media? Will we be limited or excluded all together? Will Bruce Arians and Tom Brady speak to the media via Zoom following games with reporters at home? Will each outlet only be allowed one member to attend?
And who is going to keep Ira Kaufman from double dipping in the chips and salsa? All questions I need an answer to. Especially the one about Sage.
• Speaking of the possibility of football with no fans in the stands, the Buccaneers might benefit from that the most. I mean they have been playing in front of small crowds for years now. But seriously, if there are no fans in the stands the opener against the Saints in New Orleans would get a little easier for Tampa Bay as the Superdome is always one of the noisiest stadiums in the league.
• I have never gone to a game in New Orleans – for two reasons. One is there is only about a 20 percent chance I would make it to the stadium before game time if I spent an evening on Bourbon Street. And two, the Mercedes Superdome notoriously has one of the worst elevators in the NFL.
According to former Pewter Reporter Trevor Sikkema anyway.
And anyone who knows me, knows elevators are my kryptonite. It’s pretty much my biggest fear. That, MRI machines, being held hostage in Gainesville while being forced to watch a Gators game, and chupacabras.
• If Demar Dotson does decide to retire, he already has his hands in some businesses and some ideas of what he want to do. Dotson is already an investor in the St. Pete and Tampa restaurants known as The Mill, and wants to get more involved in the restaurant industry down the road once his football career ends.
“I have a passion for the restaurant business and want to explore that more, “Dotson said. “But I want learn more. After football I’d like to get more education. Go to a restaurant school and get a two-year degree in management, or something like that. It is a passion but I really want to learn more.”
I’m weakkkkkk 😫😂 pic.twitter.com/Fy6VOyPAMs
— NFL Memes (@NFL_Memes) April 30, 2020