Dowling, Arrington: Complement and competition

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Dowling, Arrington: Complement and competition

FOXBORO -- One of the more intriguing scheme decisions the Patriots will have to make this season affects the cornerbacks.

One corner spot is locked down by Devin McCourty, it seems. His 2011 season-to-forget was presumably an aberration.

The other spot? Well, it looks like the first man up is Ras-I Dowling.

The 2011 second-round pick "fits the suit," so to speak.

"Big, long arms, athletic; played the ball well and ran well (at Virginia)," said Patriots personnel man Nick Caserio when asked what's appealing about the 6-1, 200-pounder.

Caserio later noted, "I think if you look at the league there are a lot of bigger corners that are playing Antonio Cromartie. There are a lot of players that are long and have length. Sean Smith down in Miami is 6-foot-3 or 6-4. So part of that is youre playing against some bigger receivers, so there is a size element that comes into play. But there are different sizes and different types of defensive backs. In the end their effectiveness is going to be based on how they can actually execute the defense, execute their skill set and actually go out there and perform at the highest level possible."

One of those "different types" is Kyle Arrington. While Dowling's long and lean, Arrington's built like an armadillo -- short, a little squat and thickly muscled. But effectiveness at the NFL level was long ago established by Arrington, who is 5-10, 196 pounds.

"Kyle, hes put together well, now," Caserio reminded. "Hes maybe a little bit short, but hes strong, hes got good playing speed; very mentally tough. Theres a guy thats really improved form the time that he started here he started on the practice squad. Hes put in a lot of work and its really a credit to him and the coaching staff that hes been able to make himself into a pretty good player."

So well that when Dowling went down early last season after being handed the starter's spot opposite McCourty, Arrington came on and tied for the NFL lead in interceptions.

That was the second straight season in which Arrington was a better-than-average NFL corner.

The Patriots have thrown snake eyes with DB draft picks a number of times. Darius Butler and Terrence Wheatley were both second-rounders who couldn't get it done in recent years. Dowling? Honestly, who knows for sure?

Dowling may have the length and speed to present a better physical matchup than Arrington, but Arrington's strength, recovery speed and leaping ability have made it so that he's rarely exploited. Nobody's seen if Dowling and his longer frame can play as well.

The question may become moot anyway. With the Patriots' self-scouting telling them that they are in five DB sets more than 60 percent of the time, there's a need for three corners on the field anyway. That would mean McCourty, Dowling and Arrington with the quicker Arrington covering the slot.

We know he can do that. And cover outside. Dowling, meanwhile, has to start building a resume. If he's better than Arrington, the Patriots are that much more potent at the back end. If he's not, the Patriots may have a long, lean, fast defensive back that can't be trusted. Again.

Belichick impressed by rookie Thuney's work at left guard

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Belichick impressed by rookie Thuney's work at left guard

FOXBORO -- Joe Thuney may not have won the starting left guard job officially, but Bill Belichick says he's on the right track. And for a rookie, that's feat in and of itself.

The third-round pick out of North Carolina State -- you may remember it as the Kevin-Faulk-in-the-No.-12-jersey selection -- has been the first-team left guard since the start of training camp, and he hasn't moved since. Thuney has occasionally taken snaps at center, and the Patriots have him learning multiple spots behind the scenes. But every time Nate Solder has run on to the field as the left tackle, Thuney has been there by his side at guard. 

Even going back to OTAs, held not long after he was drafted, Thuney was the top choice at that position. 

"Joe has done a good job with what we’ve given him," Belichick said. "There was a point where we felt comfortable making that, I’d say temporary move, It wasn’t permanent. But he has handled it well. I think he’s certainly moving towards being able to lock something down at some point. I don’t think we’re there yet, but I think he is certainly gaining on it. He has had a good preseason, had a good spring."

What once may have been deemed a temporary move back in the spring -- perhaps due to players like Shaq Mason, Tre' Jackson and Josh Kline dealing with injuries early in the offseason -- now seems like it should be a permanent one.

Thuney's run as the No. 1 left guard has been uninterrupted because his performance hasn't warranted a change. He's held his own against former first-round defensive tackle Malcom Brown in one-on-one practice drills, and he's been the highest-graded player on the Patriots offensive line through two preseason games, per Pro Football Focus. (The only players with higher grades on the team through two games are tight end AJ Derby and defensive end Trey Flowers.)

The man who went viral before the draft for his ability to solve a Rubik's cube in just over a minute has flashed an understanding of how quickly things move on the inside. Plus, playing under unretired offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, Thuney has been quick himself, both picking up pressures and working to the second level in the running game with aplomb.

Thuney will still have a preseason game or two to solidify his grasp on a starting role, but even for the brief period during which Mason and Kline were simultaneously healthy, Thuney was the choice on the left side of the interior offensive line. Now that Mason is dealing with what's been reported as a hand injury, Jackson remains on PUP, and Jonathan Cooper is still out after suffering a foot injury early in camp, the job seems like Thuney's to lose.

That Belichick even hinted Thuney is "gaining on it" is an indication of just how impressive he's been during his short time as a pro.