Every rookie, even the top pick, has to prove he's worthy of a spot in the NFL. For Bills offensive lineman Dion Dawkins, it's a bit more complicated. He not only has to earn his coaches' trust as a professional talent, but also show he's capable of playing the most important position on the line – left tackle.
In this year's draft process, nearly every analyst projected the Temple product to be a guard despite playing tackle at Temple.
That's not unfamiliar territory for Dawkins, who said he faced the same criticisms coming out of high school. Doubters were silenced once the Owls moved him to tackle in the fourth game of his freshman season and saw the results.
Dawkins started the final five games of that season, making him one of four true freshman in Division I football to start at left tackle in 2013. From there, he became a stalwart of the Temple offensive line until his graduation, starting every game he played.
"I know what I'm capable of," Dawkins said. "People in your shoes ... like going for stats. 'Oh, he's 6-4, 6-3, he's the perfect guard size.' They don't know how big my heart is."
No matter how strong his conviction, the roster makeup meant Dawkins had little chance of playing time at left tackle coming into the season. Cordy Glenn was well established at the position, signing a five-year, $65 million contract the prior year. It took Glenn's lingering ankle and foot injuries to get Dawkins on the field, allowing him to start six games in his place.
"I truly think everything happens for a reason," Dawkins said. "I got drafted here and now I've got the opportunity to play tackle."
With the luxury of early playing time, the Avenel, N.J., native has showed signs of shedding the criticisms again. Pro Football Focus ranked his performance against the Chargers No. 1 in its Week 11 rankings. He had another strong outing Sunday against the Chiefs, protecting Tyrod Taylor's blind side in a game where the Bills only gave up two sacks.
"Every game and every day it's just more and more confidence," Dawkins said. "I'm getting more and more solid."
Dawkins is in line to get a fourth straight start this week, as Glenn was downgraded from day-to-day to timetable unknown on Wednesday. Head coach Sean McDermott said ruling Glenn out for the season would be premature.
"He continues to work through it," McDermott said.
A long-term Glenn injury sets Dawkins up for a continued starting role, something he became accustomed to at Temple. Playing every week keeps him in his comfort zone, and he said it speeds up the learning process. He's trying to be a sponge, listening carefully to veteran linemen like Eric Wood and Richie Incognito.
"He comes from a school that runs a real offense, so that helps," Wood said. "He came in with a good amount of knowledge, but he's put in the work as well. ... He's done a great job."