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Kevin Dotson's change of scenery benefitting him and Rams in 2023
A preseason acquisition, starting right guard Kevin Dotson has become a crucial part of the physical playing style of the Rams' offensive line.
By Stu Jackson Dec 27, 2023

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – In a 2023 offseason of change, one of the Rams' most important decisions focused on the offensive line.

An injury-ravaged 2022 season depleted that group's depth as quarterback Matthew Stafford took many hits in his own injury-shortened campaign. Meanwhile, the run game averaged 97.7 yards per contest, tied with the Vikings for fifth-fewest per game last year.

Adjustments were needed, and one of the key tweaks arrived in late August – after lots and lots of patience.

"So when you look at, especially (with) a lot of the things that occurred last year and how important the depth of the offensive line and the necessary things that we needed to be mindful of in regard to what occurred last year and to try to make sure that we're getting our ducks in a row to not have that same thing happen," Rams head coach Sean McVay said earlier this month. "I thought (Director of Pro Scouting) John McKay, (General Manager) Les (Snead), they did a great job of identifying a guy that had played a lot of football, a tough, physical brand of football, could play on the left or the right side of the offensive line that was potentially going to be available and continued to monitor that. That was something that we thought could come to fruition and then it obviously did towards the latter part of training camp."

That guy, of course, was offensive lineman Kevin Dotson.

Acquired from the Steelers just before the 53-man roster deadline, Dotson at this stage of the season personifies the reconfigured identity of the offensive line, playing a pivotal role in the shape it's taking.

The 2020 fourth-round pick likewise has found the right environment to flourish and play his best football.

As it turns out, Dotson had been on the Rams' radar for much of this past offseason.

During an appearance on the Coach McVay Show in Week 16, Los Angeles general manager Les Snead told Voice of the Rams J.B. Long and analyst D'Marco Farr that the team's interest in Dotson began when they were in discussions with the Steelers regarding trading wide receiver Allen Robinson II, hoping to get Pittsburgh include either Dotson or defensive back Ahkello Witherspoon in the deal. 

While Dotson (nor Witherspoon) obviously did not end up getting included in that deal, Los Angeles' pro personnel department continued to monitor Pittsburgh's offensive line situation throughout the offseason. Given the Steelers were going through "a little bit of a scheme change," had brought in a pair unrestricted free agent offensive linemen and had six offensive linemen overall with starting experience, Snead said they thought Dotson – as a young player entering the final year of his rookie deal – had the potential to be the odd man out. 

"Probably knocked on their door with about three weeks left to go in the preseason, but they held on to Kevin," Snead said. "They wanted to make sure they got through the preseason healthy before they made the trade."

After the Steelers accomplished that, a deal was made sending Dotson, a 2024 fifth-round pick and 2025 sixth-round pick to the Rams in exchange for Los Angeles' 2024 fourth-round pick and 2025 fifth-round pick.

At last, the Rams reinforced their depth up front with a 6-foot-4, 321-pound offensive lineman capable of playing either guard spot.

"You turn on the tape, you play the Pittsburgh (Steelers), they're a fun team to watch," Snead said back in late August after the acquisition of Dotson. "Their linemen play with an element of toughness, they like to run the ball, they like to go north and south. He's a bigger player that helps in anchoring, especially in the pocket."

There would still be more waiting involved because of how close to the start of the regular season Dotson had been acquired.

But once he entered the starting lineup, he wouldn't look back.

Los Angeles made Dotson inactive for the first three regular season games as he got acclimated to its offense. While he had those three weeks to do so, the learning curve wasn't as steep as one might think – Dotson in October said the only thing he really had to get used to was turning his head to see what the quarterback is doing, or tipping the play, and he got better at it the more live reps he received.

"He did a good job of learning the playbook quick," center Coleman Shelton said. "It's never easy coming in with a different type of system and learning different verbiage and doing different things, and he did a good job, for sure."

In Week 4, he made his first start as a Ram, and graded out by Pro Football Focus as the offensive line's best run-blocker against the Colts with an 89.3. That run-blocking grade was also the sixth-best among all offensive linemen for that week.

Dotson's performance also coincided with running back Kyren Williams' first 100-yard rushing game of the season. Williams now has six such games on the season – all of which have come with Dotson in the starting lineup.

"That first game, you really see the type of player he is," left guard Steve Avila told

Dotson knows his skillset and play style better than anyone else, telling in August that run-blocking was his strength. He also knows which spot on the offensive line suits him best.

In Pittsburgh, Dotson started at left guard in each of the previous two seasons even though he spent his 2020 rookie season playing 53.8 percent of his snaps at right guard, where his most extensive action in college was.

How big of a difference is it?

"It's something that a lot of offensive linemen can sympathize with, they say it's like wiping your butt with your opposite hand, the hand that you never use," Dotson told "You could do it! It just won't feel right and you just have to think more. So when I was on the left, I'm thinking of my steps, I'm '1-2, 1-2' in my head. On right, I'm on autopilot, so I can just go fast and be aggressive. On left, I have to be more way more calculated. The more calculated you gotta be, that's the way your game is. When you can just go, the game speed turns up – like, those are the people who can move the fastest, the people who are most confident. So if you know the plays and you know where you need to go, you can just go. If you're on the left and you're thinking about, 'how do I gotta put my feet? how do I gotta step?', it slows you down."

In other words, he's playing much more freely, and thinking less, being back in his natural spot.

Watch the blocks Dotson has made in the run game, in pass protection and on screen passes, and the carryover is evident.

Just look at the path he cleared on an outside zone run by Williams to the left side against the Browns in Week 13.

"He literally blocked two people on one play, and they both were on the ground as I passed them as I was running behind his block," Williams said. "That's the little things that like, I don't see that happening on the field, but I go back and watch and I'm like, 'Daaang! He really did clear the way!' He's been doing that consistently since he got here. I feel like he's only getting better."

Or how he's working in tandem with Shelton on a combo block.

"I love being in combination with him," Shelton told "He does a great job of making me feel like we're gonna get movement on the combination block every time, because he's massive and he runs through guys. Does a great job on his slides. He's never leaving the center, doesn't give you fastballs or anything like that. So he's a great guy to play next to. We've gotten a lot of chemistry these past few weeks and feel like we know how each other plays now."

Even those who play on the opposite side of the line notice his play strength, too.

"Dude's different, man," left tackle Alaric Jackson told "I mean, if he gets on you, it's over with for the most part. Knocking guys down, getting to the ball, finishing guys. I mean, locker room guy, you see him pumped up all the time. So dude's different, for sure."

Avila notices how Dotson looks for work, especially in the run game, recalling the same play Williams did where Dotson blocked two defenders to the ground.

"There's a lot of people who just do their job, and are fine with that," Avila said. "It does get people by, but when you can knock people on the floor, it means a lot more. And that's definitely something that he prides himself in."

Snead shared similar sentiments.

"There's players who do their job, and then there's players who, the way they do their job, there's some momentum that comes from it," Snead said on the Coach McVay show. "When you watch Kevin run-block, you're like, 'OK, I want to run the ball again, I want to call another (run play).' And there's a lot of players that can make a block, but then there's some that you just want to keep watching them."

Dotson's strong play goes beyond playing his natural position. It's also a product of multiple aspects of the environment around him.

Earlier this season, he credited his new teammates for how welcoming and helpful they were as he learned the offense.

"They were probably the most welcoming people I've met," Dotson told "Just (from) Day 1, everybody was on board with me being here. Not really one of those things where you have to have an acclimation period of trying to get used to everybody. Everybody was cool, they've been good all season. There's a lot of positive reinforcement here. I'm coming from a place I had a little more negative (reinforcement), which I'm good with negative, I feel like sometimes you need it. This place was a lot of positive, and I'm seeing that I like that too. So it's definitely a benefit to have a coach like McVay who gives you that positive reinforcement."

Dotson also has a personality that makes him fit right in with the group. One thing Avila has learned about Dotson since Dotson joined the Rams is how dedicated he is. 

"I know he wants a lot for himself, he wants a lot for this team," Avila said. "When you have those two mixed together in a person, it can take you so, so, so, so far. We're so glad to have him. He's an awesome guy." 

Jackson describes him as "kind of a quiet, laid-back guy" who keeps to himself but also someone who is funny and will crack jokes every now and then.

He also shows the same joy whether he's getting the chance to make a celebratory spike or a making block at the second level to pave a lane for Williams on a screen.

"If you've ever seen Kevin without shoulder pads on, you know his chest just sticks out about four feet," veteran right tackle Rob Havenstein said earlier this season. "He's a big dude. He's a strong dude. And just me and him getting together about how we want to fit blocks and how he wants to hit them, how I want to hit them, and then where's that happy marriage in between. Obviously Kevin brings a bunch of strength. He's played in a bunch of games, so he's got experience. So it's been fun having K-Dot in there and getting to know him as a person as well. He's a heck of a guy. It's been fun so far."

The beautiful weather in Southern California has been impactful for Dotson, too.

"It makes you want to practice, it makes you, like, not feel bad during practice," Dotson said. "Pittsburgh, people love the city, but it's gloomy. It gets really – you can almost get depressed out there because you just don't have any sun, you have nothing keeping you going, and you have that here every day and there's a lot of stuff to do here on your off days."

When Dotson arrived in Los Angeles and completed his first practice with his new team beneath clear blue skies, he talked about how he knew what he was capable of and had to take full advantage of his new opportunity.

Nearly four months later, it's clear he has. Among offensive linemen with at least 700 snaps this season, he enters Week 17 with Pro Football Focus' 8th-highest run-blocking grade (87.0) of any offensive lineman and third-highest among guards specifically. His overall offensive grade (83.2) is second among guards behind the Falcons' Chris Lindstrom (87.8) and seventh among all offensive linemen.

"It was pretty much in my plans," Dotson said. "The second they told me that I was gonna be coming out here, just had it in my plans of like, I want to be able to start. I knew once they gave me my chance, I had to take full advantage and that's what I've been doing. I don't know what's happening in next year, but I just know I had to take advantage of it this year."

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