PULLMAN – There’s something unfamiliar about the start of Isaac Dotson’s senior season.
Dotson is reporting to the same position coach he was last year. That’s new. He hasn’t had to wander the corridors of Washington State’s football ops building in search of a new meeting room. That’s also new. Everything looks a lot like it did last year. For Dotson, that’s a first.
“This is the first year he’s come into a fall camp the same position he was last year,” teammate Peyton Pelluer said.
Pelluer, a fellow inside linebacker and roommate of Dotson’s, is only a hair off when he says that Dotson has “played literally every position on defense.”
He’s played three of them and that doesn’t count the brief pit stop he made at quarterback as a true freshman in 2013.
Four years and four positions later, Dotson has finally found full-time residency at WSU’s Will linebacker spot. He’s projected to start there next week when the Cougars open the season at home against Montana State.
“So he was happy about that and I’m happy about that,” Pelluer said, “because I’ve got a guy next to me that knows the defense very well and I can trust him to do my job and I can trust him to communicate and he can trust me to do the same.”
Dotson, of course, is the biggest benefactor. The Bellevue native who played prep football at Newport High was recruited as an athlete, so he knew there was a chance he wouldn’t finish his career playing the same position with which he started.
WSU’s coaches called their first audible just a few days into Dotson’s rookie season. He was throwing the ball back then, but the Cougars were deep enough at QB and needed help in the defensive secondary. Dotson moved to the last line of defense and played safety his first two seasons under defensive coordinator Mike Breske.
Alex Grinch replaced Breske the next year and Dotson made another move, to nickel back – a defensive back-linebacker hybrid position that requires someone who can cover well and tackle soundly. But that didn’t last long.
As Dotson continued to shape his body, coaches realized they could move their Swiss Army knife defender one level closer to the line of scrimmage. He’d become one of the team’s top takedown artists, so when Dotson arrived to fall camp in 2016, he was on the move again. The new gig was linebacker.
“I think it just suited his physique, it suited how he played the game of football,” inside linebackers coach Ken Wilson said. “He’s never been a timid guy, but he’s never been down in those situations, so I think we felt pretty good that moving him down would be a good move.”
Naturally, there was an adjustment period. The game comes at you faster when you’re 5 yards closer to the trenches – similar to what a baseball player would deal with if the pitcher’s mound crept in a few feet.
“It’s a little different world when you’ve been your whole life a quarterback or a safety and all of the sudden, you’re 3, 4 yards from the football and there’s 340-pound linemen trying to hit you,” Wilson said. “He’d never had to deal with that kind of stuff before.”
Nailing down the new schemes and packages consumed Dotson’s redshirt junior season. He knows them all now, so this season is dedicated to brushing up on the details.
“It’s cool to kind of have a spot where I can come back from last year and build on my game, not that I couldn’t do that when I moved positions, but just to have a position that I’m set in, be able to focus more on little things as opposed to learning the package in a different spot,” Dotson said.
“I’d say just technique stuff, like attacking blockers, getting past blockers, pass rushing, aligning myself presnap in a spot where I can hit my gap full speed,” Dotson said as an example.
The familiarity is important, but Dotson’s tour around the field has helped make him more cerebral. Being fluent in a few languages is never a bad thing.
“It helps also with our communication, my communication with (safety) Rob Taylor back there,” Dotson said. “Because he’s giving all the calls on the field most of the time, so just knowing why he’s putting me where I need to be and where he’s going to be playing off of me helps a lot.”
“He’s seen it all,” Pelluer said.