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Ras-I Dowling is all about looking forward and not back

06.14.12 at 10:27 pm ET

FOXBORO — Ras-I Dowling is not here to talk about the past.

The cornerback, who is going into his second season with the Patriots, is trying to put a mostly forgettable rookie year behind him. It began optimistically enough with a start against the Dolphins in the regular-season opener, but ended after just two games with hip surgery that left him on the shelf for the rest of the year.

As minicamp concluded Thursday in Foxboro, the cornerback was asked for an adjective to describe his rookie year.

‘€œLast year is in the past,’€ Dowling said. ‘€œI’€™m not really looking to that right now. I’€™m just looking forward right now. Right now, just looking to go forward toward training camp.

‘€œI’€™m just trying to get better — healthy — every day,’€ he added. ‘€œStriving to get back.’€

A second-round pick out of Virginia (taken 33rd overall with the first selection of the second round) who struggled with injury over the course of his collegiate career, the cornerback has quickly become one of the more polarizing players on the New England roster. His supporters say that, despite being denied access to spring workouts because of the lockout (and a slightly shortened training camp because of his contact situation and an injury), the fact that the coaching staff thought enough of him to give him a starting assignment in his first game in the league is a sign of a young talent.

Meanwhile, his detractors say that it’€™s nothing new to see a corner taken by the Patriots in the early to middle rounds flame out (Jonathan Wilhite, Terrence Wheatley), and point to his injury history and the fact that he couldn’€™t manage to stay on the field as a rookie for a defense that really could have used him.

For his part, Dowling said he was able to use the year away from the field to his advantage, and said he doesn’€™t look at 2012 as being a possible bounce-back year.

‘€œI think so,’€ he said. ‘€œ[Just] being around the team, just being around the atmosphere. The stadium. The crowd, the fans, the game. Watching film. Learning the playbook more.

‘€œI try to come out every year and train as had as I can in the offseason and try to have a better year every year,’€ he said. ‘€œHopefully, I’€™ll be able to help the team.’€

As for the injury, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said earlier this week that Dowling has ‘€œparticipated in every practice,’€ and he has received the unquestioned support of his teammates and coaches.

‘€œFirst of all, I’€™m just happy for him,’€ defensive back Devin McCourty said of Dowling. ‘€œHe’€™s a guy that you always can see how eager he is to try to get better and to learn. Like you said, last year with him being out, he did a lot of just trying to study film and stay in it that way. I’€™m happy now that he’€™s getting the opportunity to be out here and he’€™s working hard. I think he’€™s doing a good job of just trying to pick up from where he left off last year and improving on that.’€

‘€œAs a year-two player, one of the things when he came in, he was very well versed in understanding film breakdown, film study,’€ defensive backs coach Josh Boyer said of Dowling. ‘€œHe picked up our schemes quickly.’€

Dowling certainly has a unique set of skills: At 6-foot-1, he’€™s the tallest corner on the roster, while his 4.4 time in the 40 as a collegian puts him in an elite category. And no matter what you think of him, a healthy Dowling would certainly allow the Patriots to be more flexible with versatile defensive backs like McCourty, Sterling Moore and Tavon Wilson. In addition, if Dowling was able to be a consistent presence as one of the lead corners, that would allow New England to bump Kyle Arrington into the slot, an area where he has enjoyed success when he’€™s been placed there the last few years.

But that’€™s a topic for another day. Right now, the team is just happy to have him on the field on a consistent basis.

‘€œThe thing for Ras-I, it’€™s nice to have him out there every day. He’€™s pushing through, trying to get back into game shape,’€ Boyer said. ‘€œIt’€™s basically been two years since he’€™s really played a full season. So there’€™s a lot of things he’€™s working through there. He’€™s improving on some things, and there are some things we need to get him up to speed and get him game ready.’€

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