Even though he caught a pair of passes in the AFC Championship Game at Denver this past January, it seems like a lot longer than that since Aaron Dobson had quality time in a game.
His offseason perhaps seemed even longer due to the fact that he was spending most of it trying to rehabilitate an injured left foot. He reportedly had surgery on it to have permanent screws implanted to stabilize the damaged area.
As a result, Dobson missed the team's offseason strength and conditioning program, including OTA and mini-camp practices, as well as the bulk of training camp this summer. The second-year wide receiver finally returned to action last week in practice, but sat out the second preseason game against Philadelphia.
Getting into this week's third preseason contest against Carolina would be an important step forward for Dobson, but it's unclear if he'll be cleared to do so.
"It's a big part. I mean, practice is definitely not the same as the game," he observed after Wednesday's practice. "You have to get both to get where you want to be.
"I feel like I'm doing well. This week, I caught the ball well. I've just got to keep progressing. I'm excited to get back out there as soon as I can and get back in the game."
"He's a really smart player," quarterback Tom Brady said of his young target, "but for all of us, you have to get the reps in... you have to do it under competitive situations."
Dobson insists that he hasn't fallen behind from a classroom standpoint, that he's invested plenty of time keeping up with the changes and additions to the team's playbook. However, when it comes to timing with his QB, Dobson certainly has ground to make up compared to most of his fellow receivers.
"Competition brings out the best in you," he remarked. "You don't want anything handed to you. I feel like mentally, I stayed in [shape]. It felt good just to get back out there practicing, running around a little bit, catching the ball. I just feel good to be back into it. I definitely have a little bit to go, you know, I haven't been out there in a while, so, getting my [conditioning] back up is something I need to do.
"It's going to take repetition."
Breaking bad (habits)
It was tough for almost everyone to endure the 20-plus penalties that marred last week's Eagles-Patriots game, but the flag-fest wasn't isolated to Foxborough. League-wide, referees and their officiating crews are emphasizing new rules and existing points of emphasis this summer by calling more penalties than usual.
The goal is to help players now to get used to the rules changes and emphases so they can adjust their styles of play accordingly in time for the regular season. One of those areas is along the offensive line before the snap. Linemen, and even QBs, cannot move around too much while they're in a set position before the ball is in play.
Tom Brady tried to explain it from his point of view Wednesday.
"I guess you can't… the shoulder, head and the hands with the voice … they talk about calling that quite a bit. Sometimes it's just a natural [instinct], as you try to inflect your voice, the movement of everything gets you going, but we have to be cautious of it.
"I was warned a bunch by [referee] John Parry, who was here last week, about doing that in practice," revealed Brady. "He said, 'Look, I'm OK with it, but there are a lot of refs that probably won't be.' So I think you just have to try to make the changes.
"Like I said the other day, whatever the rules are, we just have to try to adjust to them. They are going to call it the way they call it. You just have to adjust and play smart, because you can't come out of the game with 12 penalties and think you're going to win every week. You have to figure out where the line is, and then play right to it."
Tough call for Browner
Illegal contact on receivers is another rule that was called frequently last week, and for a physical corner like Brandon Browner, that could be problematic, long-term.
"[The refs] said they would emphasize the holding and illegal contact down the field. So, we were somewhat prepared for it," noted Browner. "Hopefully, in the regular season, they don't call as many, but if they do, we just have to emphasize placing our hands right. Because those things can cost you in big games."
Playing with proper technique is "very important," according to Browner.
"Very important. It's a key to the game at the cornerback spot. It's a game of inches, so, you have to be technique-sound out there in order to make plays and not get beat and not get the penalties."
But what if he was faced with committing a penalty and giving up a big play? He gave an interesting and honest answer when posed the dilemma.
"First of all, you don't think about that when you're out there. You just want to play freely," he reasoned, "but between a penalty and a big play, I'd rather take the penalty than give up a big play. Because a big play could be a touchdown. Illegal contact could cost you five yards and a first down. I'd take the penalty."
Hooray for Hoyer
In Cleveland, former Patriots backup QB Brian Hoyer was named the starter for the Browns' regular season opener against Pittsburgh.
Brady's response to the news of his old pal?
"Great. I love Brian. He's just such a great guy… person, friend. We've always kept in touch. So I'm proud of him. He's fought through some tough circumstances over the years. Being released here, going to Arizona, getting a little bit of an opportunity there and then really taking advantage of the opportunity in Cleveland. It's great for him. He's a great player. So I'm very happy for him."
Vollmer misses three straight
Sebastian Vollmer (unknown) was not on the field again Wednesday, making this three straight practice absences for New England's right tackle.
There were no changes to yesterday's attendance list, as Vollmer was once again one of seven players not in uniform on Wednesday. The others were: D-linemen Chris Jones (left ankle) and DL Sealver Siliga (left hand); tight end D.J. Williams (right leg); rookie running back Tyler Gaffney (left knee); rookie linebacker Cameron Gordon (unknown); rookie OL Chris Martin (NFI/unknown).
Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (leg) continues to don pads, but like yesterday, after team stretching period, he went down to the lower practice field with several other rehabbing players to work on extra conditioning. Among those spotted today was Siliga, who was last seen walking off the field in Richmond, Va. earlier this month after being injured in a Redskins joint practice.
Williams has been spotted briefly the last couple of days in the Patriots locker room, but he has not spoken publicly to reporters. Martin, too, has made cameo appearances of late, but hasn't gone on-record with any comments.
New England will conduct a walk-through practice on Thursday, but there will be no media coverage of that or any player interviews until after the Panthers game on Friday night.