COMMENTARY| The New England Patriots experienced significant turnover with their receiving corps this offseason, which created a lot of doubt for the upcoming season. However, with training camp just underway, rookie wide receiver Aaron Dobson is already serving notice that he could be a breakout player in 2013.
With receivers Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd and Deion Branch, and tight end Aaron Hernandez all departing this offseason through free agency or release, there were a lot of holes to fill on the roster. One spot was taken by Dobson, who was drafted in the second round of this year's draft out of Marshall University.
Dobson caught 165 passes for 2,398 yards and 24 touchdowns during his four years as a member of the Thundering Herd but is probably best known for the incredibly acrobatic catch he made against Eastern Carolina University in 2011. Not being a superstar and not playing for a marquee school means he enters the NFL needing to prove himself a little bit more than some other top picks.
Although training camp is just underway, Dobson is already standing out, as he is drawing notice as one of the most impressive players on the field.
NESN.com's Luke Hughes wrote about the polish Dobson showed while hauling in passes from quarterback Tom Brady on the practice field during early camp sessions. He was running such crisp routes and showing such excellent poise and hands that he could quickly earn the trust of the team and his signal caller. With a starting receiver position across from offseason acquisition Danny Amendola seemingly wide open, it could be the rookie's for the taking.
Dobson doesn't seem to be overwhelmed catching passes from an all-time great like Brady. He explained to MassLive.com's Nick Underhill, "He's definitely going to put the ball out there. I've just got to go out and make the catch. That's the same page we've got to be on as quarterback and receiver. He's one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game, so he's definitely demanding. Definitely tough to play for, but you've just got to do it."
At 6'3 and 203 pounds, Dobson had a 40-yard time reportedly in the 4.42 range during his Pro Day. His combination of size and decent speed makes him stand out from other more established receivers currently on the roster.
The mark of an effective rookie is whether or not they have a good head on his shoulders. This doesn't seem to be an issue for him. He seems well aware of the work he needs to put in and how important it is to take advantage of his opportunities. He told The Boston Globe's Erik Frenz, "You've just got to do the right thing. You've got to stay in the playbook, make sure, in practice, when you get the reps, you've got to make sure you're doing the right thing."
The Patriots weren't the only ones who were bullish on Dobson during the draft. Greg Cosell, a senior producer at NFL Films, told The Boston Globe's Ben Volin that the youngster looked strangely familiar. "This is going to sound crazy, but I thought that his size/hand combination, at times, reminded me of Larry Fitzgerald. He's not Larry Fitzgerald, obviously, but he's a big kid who can move very well with really good hands."
If learning a new playbook and how to fit into the NFL wasn't enough, Dobson is already having steep expectations assigned to him. First impressions are important, so the early reports are certainly encouraging. The opening days of training camp provide just a glimpse of a player's abilities, but in the receiver's case it has been enough to already begin creating a positive buzz about the possibilities to come.
In addition to the Yahoo! Contributor Network, Andrew Martin has written for Bleacher Report and a number of print publications and websites on the topics of history and sports. He also produces his own blog and has appeared on various sports talk shows and podcasts.
You can follow Andrew on Twitter @historianandrew.
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