As much of a step forward as the Bucs' offensive line took in 2015, going from allowing 52 sacks in 2014 to just 27 last year, right tackle Demar Dotson said Wednesday that the unit has to be better in protecting Jameis Winston in the upcoming season.
"When you go back and look at it, the protection wasn't great," Dotson said. "There probably should have been more sacks than it showed, because you've got an elusive quarterback. Jameis, he bailed this line out numerous times. It's a big credit to that guy right there, and he's going to continue to do it. That's the kind of effort and attitude he brings, but we up front, we've got to protect that guy."
The Bucs went from tying for the third-most sacks allowed in 2014 to tying for the fourth-lowest sacks in 2015, but Winston still took plenty of hits -- 109 total quarterback hits, the fourth-most in the NFL. Dotson said offensive line coach George Warhop has pushed the unit in the offseason to continue the improvement they made last season.
"He'll always tells us that: Last year, even though it was good, it wasn't good enough," Dotson said. "So we have to get better. I'm excited as an individual just to be a part of unit. As a unit, we're starting to jell."
Dotson said even without left guard J.R. Sweezy, who will miss at least the first six weeks of the season recovering from offseason back surgery, third-year pro Kevin Pamphile has done "an amazing job" filling in as a starter and meshing well with the rest of the line.
Dotson said improved play on the line isn't just about Winston's survival, but giving him time to use his smarts and find openings during extended plays, knowing defenses can only maintain coverage for so long.
"We realize that if we give him time, he's going to pick apart defenses," Dotson said.
And don't forget run blocking, where the line took tremendous pride in clearing a path for the NFL's No. 2 rusher last year in Doug Martin, who like Dotson has earned a lucrative contract extension for his play.
"The biggest thing of what we're going to be is a run-first team," Dotson said. "As you start developing the run, it sets up the play action and deep balls to guys like Mike (Evans) and Vince (Jackson). That's the core of who we are, running the ball. We've got one of the best running backs in the NFL. We don't need to do much. He's a guy who makes a little hole seem like a big hole. That's just the kind of running back he is."