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 concerned about availability of QBs? 'Injury report on Wednesday'

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Belichick concerned about availability of QBs? 'Injury report on Wednesday'

Bill Belichick has a pair of young quarterbacks dealing with injuries at the moment. Jimmy Garoppolo was inactive for Thursday's win over the Texans due to a Grade 2 AC joint sprain he endured in Week 2 against the Dolphins, and Jacoby Brissett sustained a minor injury to his right thumb in his first pro start last week. 

Asked if he was concerned about either player being available for New England's Week 4 contest against the Bills, Belichick didn't provide much in the way of hints one way or another.

"Well, we'll all give our injury report on Wednesday, as we always do, as we're required to do," Belichick said. "Based on where things are at that point, that'll be represented in the report."

If there's concern over both quarterbacks as the team gets closer to its final game without Tom Brady, it may be forced to add a quarterback so as not to subject an emergency option, like receiver Julian Edelman, to extended snaps behind center.

Curran's Sunday 4-pack: So, what HAS Tom Brady been up to?

Curran's Sunday 4-pack: So, what HAS Tom Brady been up to?

Six days – four quarters of football – remain in Tom Brady’s four-game suspension.
 
The fact is the Patriots are 3-0 and have gotten a long – and enjoyable – look at their quarterback depth behind Brady. Brady, meanwhile, has gotten a chance to shave one-quarter off the season-long wear-and-tear he takes.
 
But highlighting silver linings and pointing out there’s not much sand left in the suspension hourglass is no real consolation. Said one team source Thursday night, “It’s never going to go away.”

MORE PATRIOTS

 
What’s Brady been up to? Mixing family time and working out. He’s routinely spent four hours a day training, I’m told, presumably with his body coach Alex Guerrero at TB12 Sports Performance at Patriot Place. Also, aside from his Sunday session with Wes Welker, Brady’s been throwing to young college players at undisclosed locations, eschewing the opportunity to bring in some of the “name” former players who’ve reached out and offered their services.
 
Spotted in Italy with wife Gisele Bundchen last week, Brady’s also been back home in San Mateo visiting with his family.
 
Speaking to two people close to him, I was told he succeeded in making peace with the time off and avoiding the creep of too much bitterness. I was also told he’s unbelievably motivated to return at a high level and wants his transition back to be seamless in terms of performance and conditioning. That last part is, of course, to be expected. But it will be interesting to see how Brady does perform out of the gates after a month’s forced exile.
 
NINKOVICH RETURNS, TOO

The lesser of the two suspended prodigal sons set to return next week – Rob Ninkovich – is no doubt going to benefit physically from the quarter-season vacation as well. And the defensive ends who’ve performed well in his absence – Jabaal Sheard and especially Chris Long – will do well to have Ninkovich back in the mix. Mention should also be made of Trey Flowers who has shown up in opponent’s backfields on a weekly basis. It depends on what your personal cup of tea might be, but through three games, Long seems to me a much better defensive fit for this team than Chandler Jones. Jones was the more explosive pass-rusher but Long’s ability in the running game, and his play-in, play-out impact in applying pressure on the tackle in front of him makes it seem so far as if he’s an upgrade.
 
NEW DEALS AHEAD?
 
Still no word on which Patriot may be in line for a new deal since the team restructured Devin McCourty and freed up some cap space.

Donta Hightower, Malcolm Butler and Jamie Collins have been seen as the most likely targets for extensions and a redo of Hightower at this point would whittle down his $7M cap number and possibly allow another extension to be executed for either Collins or Butler, as our Phil Perry pointed out.  Jabaal Sheard, meanwhile, is the Patriot who flies under the radar when extension talk starts. He may be every bit as important to the success of the Patriots defense as the other three.
 
REX WRECKS
 
The Bills are 0-2, the natives are beyond restless in Buffalo and the Cardinals are in Western New York on Sunday. The Bills are expected to play without wide receiver Sammy Watkins and are a team staring into the esophagus of 0-3 with a visit to the Patriots coming next week. Have a gander at the Bills Mailbag in the Buffalo News.  Seems like years since Rex was all giddy about the paint job on his new truck. It was less than 19 months ago.