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Demar Dotson holds key to rebuilding Bucs offensive line

TAMPA

Quick, who was the Bucs' best offensive lineman in 2013?

LT Donald Penn? Nope, he gave up too many sacks. RG Davin Joseph? Not even close. He struggled in his return from a torn patellar tendon in his right knee, was poor in pass protection, lacked power to open running lanes and was released Saturday. LG Carl Nicks played in only two games, so we'll eliminate him. C/G Jeremy Zuttah? Nah.

It was RT Demar Dotson, hands down, according to new Bucs GM Jason Licht, who watched every snap from the 2013 season.

"He's athletic. He's tough. He's tremendously improved his technique from what I saw a couple of years ago," Licht said. "He's a smart player. He's dependable."

Dotson's story is well-documented. He was a basketball player at Southern Miss who didn't play football until his senior season, as a defensive lineman, in 2008. The Bucs signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2009 and moved him to offensive tackle.

Not only has he improved each season, but the 6-foot-9, 315-pounder was the team's most durable lineman, participating in 1,035 of 1,036 offensive snaps last season.

Dotson, 28, also might be the best bargain on the team. He has three years left on a contract that pays him $2 million in base salary for 2014.

It remains to be seen what, if anything, the club will do with Penn and Zuttah, whom coach Lovie Smith said did not live up to their salary. But Dotson might provide some flexibility.

Licht says the Bucs will work Dotson some at left tackle, Penn's position, during the offseason.

"I think it's something that we'll experiment with and just see," Licht said. "You want your linemen to all be versatile just in case something happened. I don't see any reason why he couldn't (play left tackle), but you never know."

GOOD VIBE FOR NICKS: Nicks hasn't been available to the media since October's surgery on his left foot for a MRSA staph infection. But the latest reports are he has been diligent in his rehab and doing much better; so much so that the team is optimistic he will play in 2014. If Nicks, who missed nine games in 2012 with a toe injury, is even 80 percent of the player he was before the injuries, he will be better than most guards in the league.

FREE AGENCY: The Bucs and every other team began contacting free agents at noon Saturday. The signing period begins at 4 p.m. Tuesday.

Based on the release of Joseph and Smith's determination to improve in the trenches, the team is expected to focus heavily on the offensive and defensive lines.

But landing Vikings DE Jared Allen, the best pass rusher available, is a long shot.

Allen has the most sacks in the league over the past three seasons and will command a hefty salary. That's understood. But hurting the Bucs is their uncertainty at quarterback and if they can build a playoff contender in the next two seasons.

Bucs' Best bets to sign: Bears CB Charles Tillman and Bears WR/KR Devin Hester.

Should show interest: Bears QB Josh McCown, Ravens LT Eugene Monroe, Chiefs LT Branden Albert, Seahawks DE Michael Bennett, Saints WR Lance Moore, Chiefs G Jon Asamoah and Chiefs RB Dexter McCluster.

Demar Dotson holds key to rebuilding Bucs offensive line 03/08/14 [Last modified: Saturday, March 8, 2014 10:20pm]

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