TAMPA - Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik is a gambler. A compulsive one. One look at the Bucs' roster tells you that. It is filled with players he has bet a large chunk of the Glazer family fortune on, the most notable of which might be cornerback Darrelle Revis. It is filled with payoffs, too. Handsome ones, the most notable of which might be right tackle Demar Dotson. Dominik placed only a small wager on Dotson, staking little more than his reputation as a talent evaluator on a 2009 hunch that a 6-foot-9, 315-pound power forward off the Southern Mississippi basketball team could develop into a starting caliber NFL offensive lineman. "He had the length and the strength that you look for at the position, and having the feet of a basketball player, I just always thought there was a real possibility he could make it,'' Dominik said. "The real credit goes to him, though, because he's made the most of the opportunity.''
Now entering his fifth year and coming off a season in which he pushed six-year starter Jeremy Trueblood to the bench after only one game, Dotson is preparing for his first opening day start. The milestone is one that many, including Dotson, once thought was out of reach. "When I first got here five years ago, I thought I was in way over my head,'' Dotson said after a recent training camp workout. "I mean, I walked in here that first year as an undrafted tryout free agent and I'd never played the position before and all the other guys, they were way, way better than I was.'' There was a logical reason for that. Dotson had spent the majority of his college career playing basketball, averaging about three points and four rebounds per game as a defensive-oriented power forward. It wasn't until his senior year that he joined the Golden Eagles football team, finally taking up then-coach Larry Fedora on a long-standing offer to change sports. Fedora, though, didn't see Dotson the same way Dominik did. Fedora took particular note of Dotson's height and decided to make him a defensive end, his hope being that Dotson could get his hands up and swat away passes the same way he swatted away jump shots. The problem was that while agile, Dotson didn't possess the burst necessary to truly disrupt a passing game. He moved well for a big man, but his maneuverability was more conducive to that of an offensive tackle. "You could see it from the moment he stepped on the field here,'' Dominik said. "For a man his size, he had tremendous athleticism. It was very intriguing. But he also had a real desire to learn and play the game.'' Dotson's true desire was to excel at the game. After all, he'd been given what he considered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and like someone holding a winning lottery ticket, he wanted to be sure to cash in on it. "Here I am, this basketball player, and God gives me an opportunity like this?'' Dotson said. "It's amazing, it really was. I mean, think of all the guys that don't get the kind of shot that I got. "That's why I've always worked my tail off and why I keep working my tail off every day to get better and improve and why I stay humble and value every day that I have here. I know I could lose this any day.'' Working behind Dotson in camp this year is Gabe Carimi, a 6-7, 315-pound University of Wisconsin product who, despite being a Chicago Bears castoff, has a pedigree that Dotson can only dream of. The 2010 Outland Trophy winner as the nation's top collegiate offensive lineman, Carimi was the Bears' first-round draft pick in 2011 and a starter for them for two years, and Dotson can already feel his breath on his neck. "The guy was a first-round draft pick - enough said,'' Dotson said. "Having a guy like that behind you definitely makes you work harder. But I've always worked hard. I've had to. Gabe being here isn't going to change that.'' Coach Greg Schiano isn't a big fan of players settling into positions, especially starting ones. He likes them feeling a bit uneasy about their jobs, which is why, in this case, he signed off on adding Carimi. Carimi has the ability to push Dotson to be better than even Dominik thought he'd be and based on what he's seen of him this year, the Bucs' second-year coach believes Dotson is on his way to reaching that level. "He's looked very good so far,'' Schiano said. "He's come from down here to up here and he continues to make this nice steady improvement. And if he continues to do that at the rate he's been going the last four years, he's going to be special.'' [email protected] (813) 259-7979 Twitter: @RCummingsTBO
Training camp schedule
Two remaining practices at One Buc Place are open to the public, no ticket required. Admission and parking are free. Fans can enjoy discounted concessions and autograph sessions.
Practices open to the public (dates and times subject to change):