Belichick, Dobson see improvement in rookie WR

Belichick, Dobson see improvement in rookie WR
November 1, 2013, 5:00 pm
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(USA Today Sports Images)

FOXBORO -- Aaron Dobson is getting the hang of things.

The rookie receiver had his best game to date last weekend against Miami, leading all Patriots with four catches on five targets for 60 yards and a touchdown. He now has 26 receptions for 324 yards in seven games this season.

"Aaron has worked really hard," Belichick noted Wednesday. "He’s had a good training camp; he’s had a good season in terms of improving every day. It’s certainly not perfect but things are getting better. He works hard to improve in the areas that we ask him to.

"He still has a long way to go but he’s definitely gained a lot of ground from where he was a month ago, two months ago, three months, the start of training camp."

Of the three rookie pass catchers New England brought in this past spring -- second-round pick Dobson, fourth-round pick Josh Boyce, the undrafted Kenbrell Thompkins -- Dobson appeared primed for immediate impact. The fact Tom Brady was bereft of reliable targets only helped his cause.

Missing time did not.

A hamstring injury kept Dobson out of spring workouts and New England's season opener. Being out of the game hurts any player who's new to a system. But sideline a player who's trying to transition from college to pro football and there's a chance he'll only end up playing catch-up.

"It was a lot coming in, there was a lot I had to learn," Dobson admitted. "It's definitely a hard offense. Me coming from college, it was totally different and the language is different. It took a lot for me to come in and know it. I've just got to stay in my playbook.

"But now I feel like I'm caught up and I feel like I'm improving. I'm just trying to keep moving forward."

His production against Miami is just the most recent of some big steps forward.

Yes, Dobson has the second-worst drop rate of all NFL receivers, according to ProFootballFocus.com's signature stats. He's whiffed on eight catchable passes for a 23.53 rating. But consider this: Dobson caught 11 passes on 24 targets (45.8-percent) in his first three games. He has 13 receptions on 22 targets (59.0-percent) over his last three.

He's becoming a more dependable option.

"I think you’re really seeing a good day-by-day consistency: on and off the field, on the field, in the weight room, his conditioning, in the classroom, walkthroughs, all that," Belichick said.

"It’s a real credit to him. He’s in good condition; he can go out there and has the stamina to go for a long time. His techniques and his understanding and adjustments and all that are good. He’s a smart kid so he understands and can take the coaching from the classroom to the field or from the field to the next rep."

Though Dobson knows he hasn't mastered the Patriots offense. In one breath, the 22-year old says he's recently become more confident and comfortable; in the next, he admits he's still learning new things every week.

That's where Brady comes in.

All young Patriots pass catchers say the signal caller is 'like a coach on the field.' The relationship is straightforward -- they can ask questions and he will give answers. What Brady demands in return is marked progress.

Being a rookie is not an excuse to play like one.

"Expectations are definitely higher," Dobson said with raised eyebrows. "I feel like he knows what we're capable of doing. He's on us to keep getting better and keep improving."

Which is exactly how he wants it.

"I feel like that's good to keep that on me, keep that pressure on me so I can get better. That's how you get better: you listen to an older guy, a vet who's been through it and knows how to do it. I just have to listen and take it to the field."

Both Brady and Belichick see improvement. Does he?

"I feel like I can. I just look like I know what I'm doing," he smiled. "Before it was like, you can just tell I'm thinking a lot. But I feel like the thinking is going down and I'm just out there playing."