The Tampa Bay Buccaneers showed Demar Dotson the money this spring. Then they showed him the confidence.
Instead of pursuing a veteran right tackle in free agency or using a premium draft choice on a challenger for Dotson’s starting job, Tampa Bay signed Dotson to a new four-year deal in March and continued to talk up its hulking lineman as an emerging standout.
“The sky’s the limit and I’m going to keep working until I perfect this game,’’ Dotson said. “I want to be known as the best right tackle in the game – and I know I can do it.’’
Dotson, 27, drew encouragement from Tampa Bay’s decision to pass on experienced right tackles such as Tyson Clabo, Eric Winston and Sean Lockler in free agency.
Dotson enters training camp next month as an unquestioned starter on a unit that helped the Bucs finish ninth in the league in total offense last season, despite major injuries to Pro Bowl guards Davin Joseph (knee) and Carl Nicks (toe).
“If he can stay on that trajectory, he can be a really good football player,’’ Bucs coach Greg Schiano said of Dotson, a former basketball player at Southern Miss who played only six college football games before signing with Tampa Bay in 2009 as an undrafted free agent.
Once Dotson replaced six-year starter Jeremy Trueblood in Week 2 last season, he improved each game on the edge of an offensive line that yielded only 26 sacks and opened consistent holes for running back Doug Martin, who rushed for 1,454 yards as a rookie.
Tampa Bay started 6-4 start before fading down the stretch.
“My goal is to get to the (playoffs),’’ Dotson said. “We get in and we go from there. Last December was hard. This team has some really good players and at 6-4, I thought we would do pretty well. If we get everybody back, this line is going to be one of the best in the NFL.’’
With his limited experience, Dotson is still working to refine his technique – especially as a run blocker.
Trueblood, now in Washington with former Bucs general manager Bruce Allen, received the bulk of the reps in camp last summer. That won’t be the case in 2013, but Dotson is taking nothing for granted.
“From where I started, last year was a building block,’’ he said. “I want to keep getting better because I have a long way to go. I want to be a great player, not a good player. Now I know you’ve got to prepare yourself every week in this league and the small things can kill you. Your footwork being out of place can destroy you.’’
The Bucs don’t have much proven depth behind Dotson and left tackle Donald Penn as they seek to end a five-year playoff drought. But with Nicks and Joseph expected back and Jeremy Zuttah returning to his natural position at center, Tampa Bay’s starting offensive line appears solid.
As the least seasoned member of the group, Dotson also has the most potential for growth.
“Demar is very athletic,’’ Schiano said. “He’s long and he’s got a lot of the things you look for in an offensive tackle. But he doesn’t have a long history as a football player. Here’s where he can make a huge jump this year, having that experience in his back pocket.
“He hasn’t been playing the game that long at the speed in which the game is played. Now, it’s about anticipation, knowing what’s going to come. He’s got all the physical tools and he’s a heck of a hard worker, so it’s promising.’’
Dotson is focused on staying low and being more physical on contact.
“Last year’s grind was hard because I found out how tough the NFL really was,’’ Dotson said. “It’s hard to keep pushing, but you have to. It’s good to know the team has confidence in me, but I’m a guy who’s going to keep working, no matter what. If they would have drafted someone or brought in a 10-year vet, it wouldn’t have changed anything. … I work the same way.’’