Former UVa cornerback and now New England Patriot Ras-I Dowling is a man of few words. He lets his faith and his on-the-field performance do the talking, and this showed last night in a media conference call wherein Dowling talked about his selection as the first pick of the second round in the 2011 NFL Draft.
The media asking Dowling questions on Friday after he was drafted by the New England Patriots was like pulling teeth. At one point, one person said, "Ras-I, we're trying to get to know you a little bit. Can you maybe tell us something interesting about yourself?
After a bit of silence, Dowling said that he didn't really have any hobbies. "I like going to church, reading my bible. That's one big thing I do daily. Just having faith."
But that's who he is. And that's who he's been throughout college. He's a guy who puts his head down and get to work. On the field, he's vocal and he's a leader. Off the field, he'll lay low, stay humble, and lead by example.
Just count the number of "Sirs" and "Ma'ams" during his conference call.
When asked whether he was surprised that he was drafted, Dowling replied, "No, sir. No, sir. No, sir. I was just rejoicing with my family that this opportunity came to me. I wasn't really surprised because I believe in my abilities."
Nor was he surprised that it was the Patriots who came calling, although everything on paper would suggest he should have been. After all, Dowling didn't have any pre-draft visit to Foxborough. Nor did he do any workouts with them. In fact, aside from speaking to the Pats at the combine, just like he spoke to any other team, he basically had no pre-draft contact with them.
"It's a great organization. I think everybody knows that. They win year in and year out. And nothing else is expected [other] than winning. And they do things right there."
"He's got a lot of qualities that we like in a corner," Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick said in a press conference following Day 2 of the Draft. "He's a smart kid, been in a good program, done well in that system. We can see him playing all the different types of coverages that, at some point or another, we would use. He's a good tackler, plays well in the kicking game, so I think he'll be a good addition for us."
He isn't likely to get a starting position his rookie year given the considerable amount of personnel the Pats already have at cornerback. First-round selection Devin McCourty was a Pro Bowl pick his first year, so Dowling won't be ousting him at least this year. Veteran Leigh Bodden is also slotted as outside cornerback, putting up five interceptions for 60 yards and 63 total tackles last season, and has three more years left on his contract.
So it might be a little while before Dowling gets any starting nod. While some may consider him a viable option at safety, Belichick does not appear to be heading down that route.
"He hasn't played safety," Belichick said. "But I think he has the size, ball skills and tackling ability that you could probably make an argument that he could project in there if you wanted him to. I think for right now, we'll play him at the corner, but he is big. He does tackle well. He's tough. He's got good range, good ball skills. I wouldn't say that he couldn't play in there, but that isn't really what he's done."
"We really felt like Ras-I Dowling was a good pick for us [at No. 33]. Big corner, good tackler, been in a good program there in Virginia with coach [Al] Groh andthis past year. [He's] a guy that's played in a system pretty similar to what we've run. Very impressive kid."
Dowling himself admitted to not having any experience at safety, and when asked whether he had a preference as to cornerback or safety, he replied, "Whatever the Patriots want me to do, sir."
"I'm willing to do whatever the Patriots want, where they can use me, and whatever helps the team."
Many saw Dowling going in the middle of the second round as a result of his recurring leg injuries his senior season. But that was a concern for neither Belichik nor Dowling.
"We feel like he's healthy," Belichick said. "He had a year that was, I'm sure, not the kind of year that he wanted to have. But he's a good player, been a solid player down there. Played opposite of [Chris] Cook, a kid that came out last year that went to Minnesota. I definitely think he's healthy. He worked out this spring. We were down there. I think he's ready to go."
Dowling says he's feeling great, "100 percent." He also reminded the media that he hadn't missed games prior to his senior season, and that it was "just a one year kind of luck, sir."
"If we had camp tomorrow, I'd be ready to go."