- Mike Reiss, ESPN New England Patriots reporter
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When New England Patriots rookie wide receiver Aaron Dobson took his first steps on to the Gillette Stadium playing field Friday, and looked at the lighthouse in the end zone while envisioning all the red and blue seats filled with another sellout crowd of 68,000-plus, he thought to himself: "This is going to be my new home for a while."
He likes the fit. The Patriots do, too.
For the next 30 minutes or so, Dobson fielded questions from reporters and handled himself like a seasoned veteran, not a 21-year-old whom the Patriots hope can fill arguably their greatest void -- outside, down-the-field receiver threat. The moment didn't seem too big for him. Not in the least. If anything, he was soaking it all in, exuding a humble confidence that came across just right.
By the time the session was over, Dobson tugged the sleeves of his gray Patriots sweatshirt over his reliable hands, the whipping wind and temperatures dropping into the low 50s creating a bit of a chill. No big deal, but it was a subtle reminder of Dobson's new surroundings and also one of the things that impressed the Patriots most about their new young target.
On March 13, Dobson performed well at Marshall's pro day in cold conditions (22 teams were in attendance). Then, when Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio spent time with him one-on-one, it was more of the same, almost New England-type weather.
"It was cold. Real cold," Dobson recalled of his private workout with Caserio in which there were snow flurries. "He came in, we ran some routes, catching drills, and did some board work the night before [diagramming plays]."
Caserio liked the wintry workout, and about a month later, Dobson visited Gillette Stadium and spent some one-on-one time with head coach Bill Belichick. By that point, the 6-foot-3, 203-pound Dobson could sense that there was a mutual interest.
The Patriots had positive reviews of his size, smarts, speed, sure hands (92 targets, 0 drops as a senior) and overall makeup. Belichick has said that the Patriots' hard-driving program isn't for everyone, but in Dobson, the team's top decision-makers saw someone who had the traits and character they generally seek.
Meanwhile, Dobson pointed to the Patriots' past success and his personal interaction with Belichick as things that excited him at the prospect of joining the franchise. So when the call finally came late in the second round of the draft, with the 59th overall selection, he was happy to take it.
"I just like Coach Belichick. He's real. He tells you how it is. I like that about him, [from] the first time I met him," Dobson said. "For me to be back here is great. It was a great experience getting that call."
Dobson was a freshman at South Charleston High School in West Virginia the last time the Patriots had selected a receiver that high in the draft. Seven years earlier, on the same field, owner Robert Kraft and team president Jonathan Kraft presented 2006 second-round draft choice Chad Jackson (36th overall) a winter parka upon his arrival from the University of Florida because he had never truly played in New England-type weather.
The Patriots need not worry about Dobson along those lines, and they sure hope that things turn out better than they did with Jackson, who fizzled almost immediately and finished his shorter-than-anticipated New England career with just 13 receptions. One of the underlying lessons from Jackson's crash-and-burn was that it's one thing to have top-level athleticism, but receivers also have to be willing to put in the work and have the mental capacity to adjust on the fly.
Dobson appears to be a nice fit along those lines, although it bears reminding that there are no sure things when it comes to draft picks. One of the biggest challenges for Dobson, who projects to play on the perimeter, is mastering a thick playbook and offensive system that is markedly different from the one he used at Marshall.
"It's definitely different than college," he acknowledged, "but I think I'll be able to handle it."
In terms of his playing style, Dobson called himself "a good mixture of everything" while adding that his basketball background helps when it comes to "body control in the air [and] attacking the ball," drawing a comparison to basketball players going for rebounds.
For his part, Belichick sees a slight connection between basketball skills and playing receiver.
"Most basketball players have good hands," he said. "They have to handle the ball a lot. The ball is on them quick, tight passes and handling the ball a lot in traffic and that kind of thing. Usually when you get a good basketball player, those guys usually have strong hands in being able to keep it and quick hands in being able to snatch it."
Dobson, who takes pride in his reliable hands, said it wasn't until his senior year of high school that he chose football over basketball, even though his best football offer was from Marshall (he took a recruiting visit to Northeastern for basketball). He shook his head and smiled when asked why West Virginia, the biggest school in his home state, never offered him a football scholarship.
"I have no idea," he responded, perhaps fighting the urge to say more. "That's just there. We're here now."
And since here is with the Patriots, there is a natural link between Dobson and two great Marshall receivers who played with the franchise -- Troy Brown (1993-2007) and Randy Moss (2007-10). Dobson said he's aware of the Marshall connection between them, and he's spoken with Brown in the past, but he's most concerned with carving out his own niche.
The Patriots have another lesser-known Marshall connection, as Dobson's new receivers coach, Chad O'Shea, played quarterback at the school. For Dobson, attending Marshall made sense because he's "a big family guy" and his family likes watching him play.
They'll have to travel a bit further now that Dobson has landed in New England, but no one is complaining.
"This has been a lifelong dream of mine, whether it was the NFL or NBA, since I was like 6 years old," he said. "Whatever one, it was fine with me. It just happened to be football."
Draft pick Aaron Dobson brings the intangibles the Patriots like to see.