On the surface, nine games over two seasons and just 10 tackles from a second-round pick would seem to register a player as a bust. But for Ras-I Dowling, there's more to the story than that.
Injuries have plagued a player who physically has as much talent as perhaps any member of the Jets secondary. Dowling, taken by the Patriots in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft, has the look of a legitimate press cornerback in the Jets secondary. But he hasn't been able to showcase that in his three years in the league.
Dowling had two injury-plagued years in New England where he played a combined nine games before the team got impatient with repeated hip and knee injuries and cut ties. Now, it is motivation to prove he belongs in the league.
“Definitely injuries hurt me in the past, [but] everything happens for a reason,” Dowling told Metro New York. “Now it's time to be a Jet, not focus on that in the past — just put my head down, work hard. I can't look at the past. That doesn't do you any good.”
The Jets may have found a steal in Dowling if he can stay on the field. Even during his final year at Virginia, he played in just five games in 2010 due to injury. But as far as the eyeball test goes, he has the natural ability to contribute.
Under head coach Rex Ryan's scheme, a cornerback needs to be physical at the line and and not let the receiver run an inside route. Because linebackers and safeties often blitz in the 3-4, there is no help on the backend.
The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Dowling certainly looks the part. He also has 4.4-second 40-yard dash speed and decent sized hands. Dowling primarily played in zone coverage in college and needs to transition to the role of cornerback in the Jets. He's solid in run support and doesn't shy away from playing physically, but needs to put it all together and stay healthy.
Dowling stepped in with the first-team defense last week during organized team activities with Dee Milliner sidelined.
He looked calm and composed and was solid in his coverage. OTAs are often a tough way to gauge a play due to the limited contact but Dowling didn't hurt his case to make the roster.
“I'm just trying to do my job. I can't focus on all of that and the depth chart and who is ahead of who. You have to ask [defensive coordinator] Dennis Thurman or Rex about that,” Dowling said. “I'm out there practicing now and it feels good to be out there again. It's really just work hard. Injuries happen, so you try to prepare. Things happen — they happen for a reason. I just am happy to be where I'm at.
“I'm not focused on the past.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.