TAMPA — Few teams have taken on a project quite like the one the Buccaneers did when general manager Mark Dominik agreed in 2009 to turn Demar Dotson into an NFL-caliber offensive lineman.
Primarily a basketball player, Dotson played just one year of football at Southern Mississippi, and that was as a defensive end. There was something about him, though, that told Dominik he could be an offensive tackle.
Four years later, Dotson continues to reward the Bucs for the small wager they made on him, because he has not only proved to be an effective starting tackle, but he’s also one of the best right tackles in the game.
That, at least, is the assessment of the number-crunchers at ProFootballFocus, which ranks Dotson fifth among all offensive tackles and first among all right tackles with a cumulative season grade of plus-22.5.
PFF grades players at every position with a number scale in which anything in the positive range is good. Dotson has graded out in what PFF calls its “green,’’ or positive area, in 10 of the Bucs’ 12 games this year.
Broken down further, Dotson has allowed just four sacks, two QB hits and 19 QB hurries this year, while also producing a positive run-blocking grade of 7.1 that is seventh among all tackles.
That’s the area the Bucs are no doubt happiest with. They have long considered Dotson a solid pass protector, which is why they made him the starter after benching Jeremy Trueblood after Week 1 in 2012.
But run blocking was an area that Dotson needed to work on, the Bucs said after last season, and his rating by PFF suggests he has not only improved but also established himself as one of the game’s best overall linemen.
“His whole game has improved, including his pass protection,’’ Bucs coach Greg Schiano said. “And I think there is still some tremendous upside in Demar. Is he where he’s (ultimately) going to be? No he’s not.
“And what you love about coaching him is that he works his tail off. He doesn’t say a heck of a lot. He just keeps working. And he’s tough. He’s had things that have been bothering him, but you never hear a word. He’s a bit of a throwback.’’
The Bucs enter today’s game ranked first in the league in interceptions with 17, and the name of one of the team’s co-leaders in that department might come as a bit of a surprise.
On a team with four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis, two-time Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson and 2013 second-round draft pick Johnthan Banks, the leader in picks among Bucs defensive backs is none other than safety Keith Tandy.
A converted corner the Bucs grabbed out of West Virginia in the sixth round of the 2012 draft, Tandy has combined cornerback-like ball skills and safety-like awareness to pick off three passes this year.
The picks, though, are not what the Bucs are most excited about. They always had a feeling Tandy could make an impact in that area. What they weren’t sure of was how he’d handle the more physical duties of the safety position.
Particularly in the Bucs’ scheme, safeties are required to play a lot of snaps near the line of scrimmage. And the 5-foot-10, 205-pound Tandy has proved to be as good a fit there as he has in the deep secondary.
“That’s where he had to take the biggest step (from) being a college corner, and he’s played beyond what we expected,’’ Schiano said. “He’s very versatile, and that makes him very valuable. You can almost line him up anywhere.’’
Temperatures at Raymond James Stadium will likely soar into the 80s today, almost 10 degrees above normal. Those temps have an impact on teams coming down from the frigid north, such as the Bills.
“I remember a number of times going from New York to Miami and the coaches would tell us to hydrate as much as we can and get our rest, because this heat down here, it’s a beast, it’s a monster,’’ said Revis, a former Jet.
“It can sneak up on you very fast, and the next thing you know, guys are getting (intravenous fluids) and cramping up. So I definitely think it’s to our advantage to being playing in this heat. If we see those guys gasping for air, that will be the reason why.’’