- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Second-year cornerback Ras-I Dowling, who has been competitive on the practice field during the Patriots' organized team activities and mandatory minicamp, met with reporters Thursday afternoon.
After playing in just two games in 2011, and then undergoing hip surgery, he's been a full participant this offseason even though he's still working his way back to full health.
"It's just good to be back out there with those guys. It's a great group of guys," Dowling said of his fellow defensive backs.
Dowling, the opening pick of the second round in the 2011 draft, generates passionate debate among Patriots followers.
Detractors point to his recent injury history -- he was slowed his final season at Virginia, and then in his first year with the Patriots. That has led some to call him injury prone.
Others, however, look closer and see a player who was durable through his junior season of college. Some believe he would have been a first-round pick had he entered the draft instead of returning for his senior season.
So which one is it?
Dowling, who hasn't been one to elaborate in his chats with reporters, doesn't pay attention to such talk. For his part, he's looking forward to training camp, where his play can speak loudest.
In non-contact organized team activities and mandatory minicamp over the last three weeks, he had typical ups and downs.
At one point, he nicely defended an out-and-up move by receiver Brandon Lloyd. He also ran stride for stride with Lloyd, showing the type of speed necessary to play on the outside. Other times, he lost his one-on-one-battles, which in some cases were as much a result of not being able to make contact with receivers.
At 6-foot-1 and 198 pounds, Dowling stands out among the cornerback group. Contact should be a big part of his game, and he naturally comes out of his backpedal differently than smaller corners.
"Just trying to get better, healthy, striving to get back," he said, acknowledging that he's not yet 100 percent. "Last year is in the past. I'm really not looking to that. I'm just looking forward right now, and continue on to training camp."
Dowling feels he's made progress this offseason (he rehabbed throughout the year at Gillette Stadium) and also believes the overall competition among the group is helping everyone raise their level of performance. In the weeks ahead before returning to training camp, he plans to focus on conditioning, his backpedal, and watching film.
He'll also continue to address his hip.
"Just rehabbing, getting with the trainers, it's a great group we have there with the training staff," he said. "They're giving me stuff to do and I'll just continue to work hard."