FOXBORO -- As soon as Patriots training camp started a slide labeled "Ras-I Dowling" was placed under the microscope. The corner is like a glittering specimen of unrealized potential and all are waiting to see how he does.
There wasn't much opportunity last season.
Dowling, the first pick of 2011's second round, positioned himself after last year's camp to start the regular season opener. But a torn hip tendon in Week 2's game against the Chargers relegated the rookie to injured reserve. Dowling practiced, he just never saw game action again.
Then came the offseason surgery, the recovery. He's working his way back.
"It's good to see him out there," Bill Belichick said the second morning of training camp. "We thought Ras-I made some progress last year when he was on the field. He wasn't able to finish the season, but that's really the key for any player is to be able to be out there, get the instruction, practice, watch it on film, correct it and do it again. Game reps. Not only to gain confidence, but the technique and execution to do it against high level competition. That's key for him...."
The 6-2, 198-pound cornerback will look to win Kyle Arrington's spot with his blazing speed. On the first day of camp he subbed in, bumping Arrington into the nickel spot. It won't be an easy battle.
He's also fighting his own history.
Dowling's health has long been a concern. Injuries limited him to just five games his senior season at Virginia. He missed the first three Patriots preseason games with a hamstring injury. All things considered, it's difficult to not have doubts.
Unless you're Belichick. The coach said Dowling had a "good spring" and was fully capable during all practices.
"He was able to do some of that last year and make some progress and I think he'll be able to do a lot more this year."