“First thing was really the frustration on his face because he knows he’s better than that,” Rivera said. “You could tell, but then you could see him working extra — pre-practice, post-practice, just talking and spending time with [wide receivers coach] Bobby Engram and just listening to them go through things and just him understanding that it’s just a little more work here, a little more work there. Sometimes it happens. Sometimes guys go into slumps, but the biggest way to get out really is just to work through it. That’s what he’s done.”
In the third quarter of the Commanders’ Week 4 loss in Philadelphia, Dotson beat his defender on a crossing route on third and four. But he failed to grasp the ball as it sailed through his hands, squandering a Washington drive and setting up an Eagles go-ahead touchdown.
Then early against the Falcons in Week 6, Dotson ran a deep cross and again beat his man for a possible big play, but he bobbled the ball as he ran out of bounds. That was his only target of the game.
And a week after that, on a fourth-and-five play with about a minute left against the Giants, Dotson ran a shallow crossing route for what could have been at least a first down if not a tying score. Instead, the ball bounced off his chest to seal an ugly Commanders loss.
“Most receivers are not going to really say it, but you have a few drops, it’s not in your head, but you’re thinking about it,” wide receiver Terry McLaurin said. “It’s like you’re a little bit more tense to go catch the ball and say like, ‘Oh, this is what I do.’ ”
So drastic times called for unusual measures for Dotson — including watching his own college video while in team meetings.
Dotson, who finished his career at Penn State tied for second in program history in career catches and receiving touchdowns, reached out to a former teammate still with the Nittany Lions to gain access to recordings of his old games. He also scoured YouTube for some of his old highlights.
“Whenever I’m kind of going through tough times or when things feel off, I kind of just go back to when I was having success and really hone in on the details that I was doing to make sure that I had that success,” he said Thursday. “I was going back and watching college film, seeing how some of the creative plays that I had and the different types of routes I was running and the creativity I was using just to get open.”
Dotson’s thinking was simple: “You see yourself making plays, it manifests,” he said.
Watching it was one thing. Working at it was next. In recent weeks, Dotson started coming to the team’s facility on Tuesdays, when players are typically off. With the help of assistants, he spent a lot of time on the JUGS throwing machines, which he also regularly uses post-practice for about 10 minutes a day.
The results have been noticeable over his past two games. Dotson had a career-high 108 receiving yards in Washington’s Week 8 loss to the Eagles, then had a pair of big catches in its Week 9 win in New England, including a 33-yard touchdown that tied the score in the third quarter.
“I think he really got back to his fundamentals,” McLaurin added. “ … I was just trying to encourage him to continue to trust his technique and train your eyes to catch the ball as well. I think a lot of receivers, myself included sometimes, you drop the ball, yeah, because of your hand placement but also because you’re trying to move or you’re not following the ball with your eyes completely. He has unbelievable hands, and I think it was just getting back to his fundamentals, really the details of catching the football. And then you get more comfortable.”
Dotson and McLaurin have credited Engram with creating drills in practices that work on skills that players struggled with in games or need to hone.
But Dotson also knows himself and knows how to keep a small issue from festering.
Last season, Dotson dropped a deep pass on Washington’s opening drive and promptly went to the sideline and begged then-receivers coach Drew Terrell to get him the ball soon to rid the taste.
“I feel like that’s usually what I need to just get back on track,” he said. “I had a pretty solid game after that.”
It wasn’t until the second quarter when Dotson was targeted again, but he made sure the ball didn’t slip through his hands. An 11-yard catch was followed by a 25-yard catch and, eventually, a touchdown. Had penalties not negated another 39-yard catch, Dotson would have topped 100 yards in the game.
“For me, it’s weird because when I make a mistake or something like that, I’m the type of person who wants the ball in my hands right away,” he said. “So it’s really hard when, like the Atlanta game [this season], that was my only target of the game. I was feeling that one a lot.”
His recent turnaround has felt much better.
“It definitely felt good to get back to doing what I know I can do and that’s make plays for this team because I feel like when I’m making plays, our team has a better opportunity to win football games,” Dotson said. “It was kind of just getting back to the basics and really honing in on details and making sure that I stay on top of my stuff.”
And if that meant sacrificing a few minutes of meetings, surely Rivera and Bieniemy will understand.