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When it comes to Patriots’ new and improved defense, don’t forget about Ras-I Dowling

08.02.12 at 12:26 am ET

FOXBORO — One of the most intriguing additions to the Patriots defense isn’t even new.

Ras-I Dowling missed all but two games of his rookie year last season due to a hip injury, but now that he’s healthy the Patriots may have themselves a starting cornerback. Dowling — who has had injury concerns since his college days at Virginia — is healthy again and trying to prove the Patriots right taking him at the top of the second round in 2011.

“I’m doing everything everybody else is doing,” Dowling said after Wednesday’s practice at Gillette Stadium. “Practicing, taking [everything] day by day.”

A man of few words, Dowling isn’t just doing what everybody else is doing. In fact, he’s doing something that every player hopes to be doing by taking regular reps with the first team. With third-year man Devin McCourty at one corner spot, Dowling has manned the other while Kyle Arrington has lined up at nickel.

That isn’t to say that a starting job is automatically Dowling’s. He’ll have to stay healthy and prove himself to be a safer bet in coverage than Sterling Moore, another second-year defensive back with the advantage of playing in big games during New England’s run to the Super Bowl.

If Dowling, who was limited to five games by various injuries as a senior before being drafted, is able to stay healthy, he could provide the Patriots with a rare blend of size and ball skills. At 6-foot-1 3/8 and 198 pounds, Dowling joined Colorado’s Jimmy Smith as the 2011 draft’s oversized big-name corners. With Patrick Peterson, Prince Amukamara and Smith off the board when the Pats chose with Carolina’s second-rounder, the Pats made Dowling the pick.

Yet size isn’t all that Dowling brings. He ran a 4.46 second 40-yard dash at the combine — a great time for a corner his size — even though he pulled his hamstring on the run, ending his combine. He also had eight picks in his first three years at Virginia and was rated an “exceptional” tackler by ESPN’s Scouts, Inc. coming out of school.

Of course, all of those attributes are of no use to the Patriots if Dowling isn’t on the field.

“I’m just getting the feel of the game again and practicing out here with the guys, just the feel of it,” he said. “The more practices underneath my belt, the better.”

The more practices and games, that is. Dowling only missed on game in his first three years of college ball, but now he’s looking for his first healthy season in three years. If he can accomplish that, his physical skills would suggest the Pats could have a special young corner.

Read More: 2012 Training Camp, Ras-I Dowling,



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