In 2011 the New England Patriots had one of the worst defensive backfields in the NFL in part because second round draft pick Ras-I Dowling was injured for much of the season. While the Patriots have added veteran cornerbacks just in case, Dowling must prove himself in 2012.
In his rookie season in 2010, Devin McCourty was named all-pro and the Patriots felt good about a quick rebuilding of their defensive secondary. The next season they selected Dowling and were hoping he could put together a similar season as McCourty did. Unfortunately, Dowling was injured again San Diego in just his second game and was placed on injured reserve.
During this offseason, the Patriots signed veterans Will Allen and Steve Gregory. While Gregory is actually a free safety, he spent considerable time at cornerback in San Diego. The Patriots were going to add to that position regardless as they continue to rebuild their defense but these veteran additions are no doubt to cover for another potential injury or lack of production by Dowling.
Coming off a season which saw the team lose narrowly in Super Bowl XLVI nothing other than their fifth Super Bowl victory will be considered a success in 2012. The Patriots have added significantly to their receiving corps this offseason and have developed the best offense in the league. But in order to achieve their ultimate goal, the team will need to be better on defense.
Part of being better on defense will be a much improved secondary. The Patriots will not wait for Dowling to produce as they’ve built a team to win now. With star quarterback Tom Brady coming near the end of his prime, time is running out to win that next Super Bowl and they can’t afford to wait on players to develop.
For Dowling 2012 will be his opportunity to prove himself. Despite his injury in 2011, he is still young and still full of potential. But if he suffers another injury or lack of progress in 2012, the Patriots are probably not a team that will wait and hope he gets better. So for Dowling the upcoming season may determine his future with the Patriots.