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Practice notes | 'It's just a matter of time' for Dotson to get back on track

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Jahan Dotson was one of the more exciting young wide receivers during the 2022 season. Through the first four games, he caught 54% of his passes for 152 yards and four touchdowns, which at the time was tied with Stefon Diggs for the most receiving touchdowns in the NFL. 

Things haven't gone quite as well for Dotson in Year 2, but that could change in the near future. 

Despite getting nine more targets and playing in two more games -- he had a hamstring injury in 2022 that sidelined him for five games -- Dotson has 12 fewer yards and three fewer touchdowns through six games. He just came off a game where he was only targeted one time and did not make a catch. 

That's drastically different from training camp, when Dotson was one of Sam Howell’s favorite targets. To head coach Ron Rivera, though, "it's just a matter of time" before he gets back on track. 

"I think that's the thing we all have to be patient with," Rivera told reporters on Monday.

Dotson's lack of explosive, impact plays is certainly a puzzling development, because it looked like things were headed in a more positive direction during camp.

Dotson's connection with Howell was one of the highlights from the Commanders' offense in August. He was targeted nine times by Howell in the preseason, more than any other receiver on the roster, and made seven catches for 106 yards to go with a touchdown against the Cleveland Browns where he ducked under two defenders to score.

"Jahan is so special," Howell said. "He's so polished … I was a huge fan of his when he was in college, and I'm so excited to play with him."

Dotson said in August he could feel that Howell "trusts in me" to make a play for the team, and in fairness, it's not as if Dotson is necessarily lacking in targets this season. He's tied with Curtis Samuel for the second most targets on the team (31).

And yet there are moments when Dotson simply hasn't been able to come down with passes. The most recent, and most glaring example came last Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons. On the first play of the Commanders' drive after the Falcons failed to convert a fourth down at the Washington 48-yard line, Dotson got behind the defense and dropped a pass that had a chance to be a touchdown.

Dotson wasn't targeted again after that play. Howell wanted him to know that it wasn't because of anything he was or wasn't doing.

"It's just kind of a flow of the game type thing," Howell said. "It wasn't that Jahan wasn't in the game plan, it's just more of the plays that were called at that certain time and kind of what looks they gave on certain plays kind of dictates where the ball goes. It's kind of just one of those unlucky things for Jahan."

The Washington Commanders got back to work on Wednesday as they began preparing for their Week 7 matchup with the New York Giants.

Howell also wants Dotson to know he and the team still trusts him.

"He's a hell of a player. I'm going to continue to try to do everything I can to get him the ball just like all our guys."

Dotson said Howell went to his locker right after the game to tell him that message.

"It was really good to hear that coming from your quarterback," Dotson said. "That's the guy that you trust in and knowing that he trusts in you to make those plays, that's all you need."

Rivera also believes that a discrepancy in targets is expected for an offense that has a healthy number of playmakers. He's certain there were there were times where Washington had similar issues when Art Monk, Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders were on the field together.

Rivera isn't making a direct comparison between the trios, but it's still a good group of receivers who aren't always going to get the same number of targets for a variety of reasons.

"They're a good group and we're going to distribute the ball based on game plans and who our opponents are," Rivera said.

Dotson admitted that he has been going through "a tough time" on the field in the last couple of weeks. In those moments, he's been his toughest critic, because he knows he's capable of more. Fortunately, he's had a good support system to get him through it.

"The guys in my room, a great quarterback, a true leader. And then when I go home, I got a beautiful family I go home to, and they give me positive reinforcement all the time. So, I got a great of people around me who are always gonna bring me up and bring the best out of me."

He also wants to go into each game with the right mindset, and that means focusing on how he can best help the team rather than the number targets he could get.

"At the end of the day, it's a team game," Dotson said. "But I still wanna produce myself. That's where I come in to come out to practice every day, go hard. And when I get my opportunities, I make the most of them."

Let's state the obvious here: Dotson is still a talented player, and anyone who needs a reminder of that can look back to the Commanders' game against the Philadelphia Eagles. It was Dotson who Howell targeted to make the game-tying touchdown at the end of regulation, and he made the catch over two defenders to do it.

Last Sunday's game was also the only the second time where Dotson didn't have a single catch in a game. The other occasion came in Week 12, which was also a game against the Falcons. The following week, Dotson made five catches on nine targets for 54 yards and scored the game-tying touchdown against the New York Giants on the road.

The Commanders are heading to MetLife Stadium to play the Giants this weekend. So, if history is any indication, maybe Dotson is set up to have a bounce back performance to help Washington get back above .500.

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