TAMPA — Demar Dotson has nimble feet, long arms and good strength, all important traits to play left tackle.
Protecting the quarterback's blind side is among the most important jobs on any football team. Next to a great edge rusher or the quarterback, it's also the hardest to adequately fill. It's not easy blocking the best pass rushers who line up on the right and whip around the corner like thoroughbreds on the backstretch at Churchill Downs.
"As you draw up that perfect guy (at left tackle), he would look a lot like that — his size, long arms," Bucs coach Lovie Smith said of Dotson.
But until a week ago, Dotson had spent his career at right tackle. Then a few days before Sunday's 19-17 loss at Carolina, Smith asked the 6-foot-9 Dotson if it would be all right if he went over to the left side.
Why the switch? Because if Dotson's change is successful, it can reverse the fortunes of the Bucs in 2015. "It's totally different," Dotson said. "I've been on the right side so long, then you go over to the left and it's like a foreign language."
Nine months ago, the Bucs signed Bengals free agent Anthony Collins to a five-year, $30 million contract to play left tackle after watching him there for eight games from 2013 in a fill-in role. But Collins has been a huge disappointment, and last week, he was among the Bucs' inactive players. "Coach's decision," Smith said.
At 2-12 and with games today against Green Bay and next week versus New Orleans, Smith and the Bucs will keep trying players in different positions.
It has been a seasonlong process of trial and mostly error for Smith and his coaching staff.
Starting safety Mark Barron was traded to the Rams. Major Wright, a loyal soldier for Smith's Bears, took over but has now given way to the future — second-year pro Bradley McDougald.
Linebacker Jonathan Casillas, who began the year as the starting strongside linebacker, was dealt to the Patriots, and Packers castoff Danny Lansanah has emerged as one of the team's best playmakers, with three interceptions including two returned for touchdowns.
Defensive end Jacquies Smith had been with the Dolphins, Jets, Bills and Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League before landing in Tampa Bay, claimed off waivers. Flash forward and Smith has 61/2 sacks, 51/2 in the past five games.
"I felt like they gave me an opportunity every which way to showcase my ability," Smith said. "Just being able to go out there and do it and produce, it speaks for itself. Once you get the opportunity, you have to take it and run with it."
Bucs defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier admits it's tough for a new coaching staff to really get a good feel for which players will fit their scheme until the games start counting.
"You think you have an idea in (organized team activities) without pads on, your personnel, you're watching tape and you're trying to get a feel for them," Frazier said. "Once the live bullets start flying, you really find out what you have and what you don't have. So even though you practice time and time again, there's a reason why some guys rise and some guys fall over the course of a season."
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At least, the Bucs will begin 2015 with a much better idea of their personnel and how to use it. And if Dotson can hold up at left tackle, well, the team can maybe concentrate on Oregon's Marcus Mariota or Florida State's Jameis Winston at quarterback.
"I think it's a must," Lovie Smith said of securing a left tackle. "There's some positions you know you're looking for — got to get your quarterback in place; a (middle) linebacker; a (No. 1) receiver. But I think at the top of everybody's list, they would say you need to establish and have a left tackle that can take care of the great pass rushers by himself without giving him any help.
"But again, he's been there one week. I'm anxious to see — it's a big game for a lot of us, but I'm anxious to see him take another step this week and I think he will."
Contact Rick Stroud at email@example.com and listen from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-AM 620. View his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bucs. Follow @NFLStroud.