Patrick Dorsey knows what opposing offensive linemen think when they look at him.
Probably some surprise, at first. And then maybe a sense of relief in anticipation of an easy day at the office. That's life when you're a 5-foot-11, 273-pound defensive tackle in the Big 12, and Dorsey understands it.
He lets them think what they want to think. He embraces it.
Why? Well, because after those first impressions are made, a funny thing happens.
The ball is snapped.
"Obviously, you like for your defensive linemen to be a little bigger in stature," said Buddy Wyatt, new defensive line coach at the University of Kansas. "But I think what Pat lacks in stature he makes up with heart and his technique. I mean, he is probably the best technician that I've coached in a long time."
The 2009 season was a learning experience for Dorsey. After working his way into the starting lineup for the season opener against Northern Colorado, he performed well in the non-conference portion of the schedule – recording four tackles versus Southern Mississippi and two versus UTEP, including a sack. His quickness allowed him to impact plays by getting into the backfield and harrying the quarterback.
But as the season progressed, and offensive lines got bigger, things started to change. Suddenly it wasn't enough that Dorsey was more explosive off the ball than any offensive guard or center, or that he never quit on a play. At some point, it simply became hard to overcome a size difference of as much as 50 pounds against certain opponents, and as Big 12 play progressed his snaps dwindled.
With a new coaching staff came a new opportunity, however, and Dorsey has made the most of his. Known for leaving it all in the weight room and on the practice field, he grew stronger. He refined his technique, and he earned consistent praise from his coaches – including first-year defensive coordinator Carl Torbush.
As a result, Dorsey once again finds himself atop the depth chart at defensive tackle for the season opener.
"I would say Pat, right now, in pre-season and going through the spring is probably one of the most consistent football players, day in and day out," Torbush said. "I'll be shocked if he doesn't have a very solid year this year."
Dorsey has taken what he learned in 2009 and improved upon it, finding ways to turn his perceived weakness – his size – into a bona-fide strength.
"I mean, I'm a short guy," the Houston, Texas native said, a small smile creasing his face. "So staying low and being quick comes in handy when you're a short guy. On my pass rush I'm a quick guy, and I stay low against run blocking and all that."
According to Wyatt, Dorsey's success won't hinge exclusively on his physical ability, either. Even when one is a little undersized, he can make up the difference with intelligence and experience; by understanding his responsibilities and the tendencies of his opponent.
That mental aspect of trench warfare is another area in which Dorsey excels.
"He's smart," Wyatt said. "He understands blocking schemes and how teams are trying to attack him. He's a pleasure to coach, and obviously I don't see any difference in the guy that's 6-foot-5 or the guy that's Patrick's size. He can be just as effective as long as he uses his technique the way he needs to."
When he trots out onto the field for the first play Saturday night, many among Jayhawk Nation will almost undoubtedly draw comparisons to James McClinton.
It's an easy link to make. After all, Dorsey himself admits to modeling his game after the former All-Conference and All-American Jayhawks star, and on the surface the similarities are hard to miss.
Like Dorsey, McClinton was a small DT trying to carve out a place for himself in a battle where the combatants are growing larger by the year. And, like Dorsey, perhaps his best attribute was his almost supernatural explosion off the snap.
"I was here when James was here, so definitely he was a motivator," said Dorsey, a redshirt freshman during McClinton's senior campaign in 2007. "I take motivation from him, he being a little guy and doing what he could do with his size. He showed me that no matter your size, you can still do big things in the Big 12."
While Wyatt hesitates to draw comparisons between his protege and such a prolific defensive force, he sees within Dorsey the potential to fill that same role.
"I don't know if you can compare Pat to him, because I thought McClinton was an outstanding player," Wyatt explained. "He was a big play guy, he made a lot of big plays. He was always disruptive, and hopefully Pat can do the same thing for us this year."