Bill Belichick's Patriots entered rounds 2 and 3 with five draft picks; they ended up making just four, though, after pulling off a pair of trades.
Many observers thought a trade target would be New England's first pick of the day, the 33rd overall. However, Belichick held onto that selection to take Virginia cornerback Ras-I Dowling (6-2, 200). Though he missed considerable time last season with various injuries, the head coach expressed confidence in his new defender's durability and overall skill set.
"Big corner, good tackler, been in a program there at Virginia with Coach [Al] Groh. Played in a system pretty similar to what we run," Belichick began. "We feel like he's healthy. He worked out this spring, we were down there. He's ready to go. He's got a lot of qualities we like - he's a smart kid, he's seen all the different types of coverages we would use, he plays well in the kicking game."
Given his size, Dowling may look like a safety, but at this point, Belichick sees him as a corner, and most likely an edge corner rather than an inside, slot corner.
"He hasn't played safety, 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, but for now, we'll play him at corner."
"I'm feeling great. I'm 100 percent. If we had camp tomorrow, I'd be ready to go," Dowling insisted during an introductory conference call with reporters, adding that his injuries were just a one-year aberration.
With their next pick in the second round (56 overall), the Patriots went back on offense, taking Cal running back Shane Vereen, (5-10, 210), before trading their third second-rounder (60 overall) to the Texans for Houston's third-round choice (73 overall) and a fifth (138 overall).
In the third round, New England went for another running back: LSU's Stevan Ridley (6-0, 223), taken with that 73rd overall choice. Immediately thereafter at 74, the Patriots chose Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett (6-6, 240).
Belichick raved about what he sees as Mallett's many attractive qualities.
"He's had a lot of production everywhere he's been - high school, college ... Impressive guy to talk to. He played in a good offense with Coach [Bobby] Petrino at Arkansas. They do a lot of pro-style type things. He handled that very well, his accuracy, his mechanics, making adjustments.
"He's won a lot of games," Belichick continued. "He's very into football. You can't wear him out. You want to talk about it, no matter how many hours it is, he's ready to go watch film. His father's a football coach ... I can definitely relate to that. He's very much a football person."
As for the two running backs, Belichick pointed out that they're very different styles of players that can be productive in the New England offense and on special teams.
"[Ridley]'s a bigger, physical back, gets a lot of tough yards. I'd say Vereen is more elusive, a little bit more of a space back, has good hands. I think they'll complement each other well. We've had a little bit of age at that position, so, it's good to get some young guys to provide competition there."
The Patriots would have had a third third-round pick (92 overall), but they decided to trade it to Oakland, along with their fourth-round selection (125 overall) for the Raiders' seventh-round choice (219 overall) this year and a second-round choice in 2012. So, the team, which started with nine picks over seven rounds, still has that number as of Friday night. Going into the final day of the draft on Saturday, New England has no fourth-round selections, but two in the fifth, plus one each in rounds 6 and 7.
Belichick still hasn't addressed what appears to be his most pressing need, an outside linebacker/pass rush specialist, but he didn't seem overly concerned with that when asked at the end of the day Friday.
"We have some young players on our roster [at that position]," he explained, "and those players ... are still continuing to develop."
Before today's action got underway, the team introduced first-round choice Nate Solder to reporters in the traditional jersey-presentation ceremony for the team's top overall selection.
A jet-lagged Solder nevertheless appeared bright-eyed on a sun-splashed spring day here in New England. He reiterated what he'd told reporters during his conference call the night before, that he's anxious to get to know his new teammates and begin fighting for a job at left tackle.
"It's a huge responsibility - protecting the quarterback, being able to run the ball. And that's something that I always loved. I always love a challenge," said Solder.
The 2011 NFL Draft resumes Saturday at noon with the remaining rounds, 4-7.