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.

Gronk: 'Can't wait to compete again and play ball'

Gronk: 'Can't wait to compete again and play ball'

Rob Gronkowski's been having more than his share of fun this offseason, based off what we've seen on social media, but he sent out a Tweet Sunday night that makes it sound as if he can't wait for training camp to begin.

Gronkowski played in only eight games in 2016 because of back issues that eventually required surgery, and missed all of the Patriots' run to the Super Bowl championship.

Of course, if you check Gronk's timeline beneath his 'I-can't-wait-to-start-playing-again' Tweet, you'll find a) a couple of hypes for his new show MVP, b) a re-Tweet in which he's helping Mojo Rawley get ready for Wrestlemania, and c) quasi-ads for the various products he endorses.

Five things to look for from the NFL annual meetings this week

Five things to look for from the NFL annual meetings this week

PHOENIX -- Bill Belichick may not be speaking with the media here this week, but there will be plenty for us to examine at the annual league meetings. 

Reporters were informed via a team spokesperson that the Patriots coach would not be in attendance at the AFC coaches breakfast Tuesday morning -- where in the past orange juice has been sipped and tape recorders have been bulldozed -- due to a scouting conflict. 

The breakfast is not mandatory for coaches so for Belichick to use his time at a college pro day (Florida, Texas and Iowa State all have theirs scheduled for Tuesday) or a private workout comes as little surprise. He's been busy on the Trail of Due Diligence in recent weeks, making visits to Vanderbilt, Ohio State and Michigan in order to get a closer look at prospects.

Five weeks behind, remember? No days off. 

Patriots owner Robert Kraft is planning to meet with reporters on Monday so we'll have an opportunity to hear from him on a variety of topics when that comes to pass. 

Here are some of the other Patriots-related stories we'll be doing some digging on this week as we keep you updated with blog posts, occasional television hits, tweets (@PhilAPerry), Instagram shots (@PhilAPerry), and maybe even a podcast or two.

-- What does the rest of the league think when it sees the way the Patriots have attacked this offseason? How will the new pieces fit? Do other coaches and executives see it as Belichick going all in on 2017? Or is this just a case of a team adhering to its motto of doing "what's best for the football team" -- both in the short and long-term?

-- What's next for the Patriots? They're not done building the roster, so where might they turn next? Will they add other lower-level free agents? Will they be looking to trade back into the first and second rounds? Which positions seem to be of interest to them in the draft, and how might that signal the direction this roster is headed?

-- What is the feeling on the future at the quarterback position in New England? We know the Patriots aren't looking to give away Jimmy Garoppolo, but do people around the league really feel as though a haul of draft picks won't get the Patriots to think twice about trading him? Is it possible that in this rare scenario -- where the franchise quarterback is playing at an MVP-level but headed into his 40-year-old season -- people could see the Patriots paying two passers a starter's salary?

-- Will anything happen with Malcolm Butler before the meetings are out? Some have speculated that if his status as a restricted free agent (with an unsigned first-round tender) is to change anytime soon, it could happen here, where presumably his agent will be able to hear offers from one or more clubs in person. Will Butler find a team willing to give him an offer sheet and relinquish its first-round pick to the Patriots? Or will he sign his tender -- whether it's with the intent to play for the Patriots in 2017, or to be traded?

-- Rules changes are coming. We just don't know which ones. Will the linebacker leap (executed by Jamie Collins and Shea McClellin under Belichick) be eliminated? Will Stephen Gostkowski soon be looking to blast kickoffs through the uprights due to the passing of a rule that would place the ball at the 20 as opposed to the 25 for such a feat? Will real-time replay decisions suddenly shift from the officials on the field to the NFL offices at 345 Park Avenue? We'll let you know which proposals are held up, which fall flat, and how the Patriots might be impacted. Belichick and his staff did not submit any proposals for the second consecutive year.