Virginia head coach Mike London wasn't timid about his intentions with former Cavalier cornerback Ras-I Dowling, and Dowling accepted every challenge levied upon him.
London had no problem singling up Dowling on the other team's most talented wide receiver, even if he was isolated on the other side of the line with no safety help. Dowling's ability to excel with those responsibilities helped the Patriots take him with the 33rd pick in last month's draft.
"You roll there and you cover him because you're our best guy, and that's their best receiver," London would tell Dowling. "He's been put in situations like that. He won't shy away from contact, and I don't think anyone will work harder than him."
London believed the Patriots were "a perfect fit" for Dowling, who played under former Virginia head coach Al Groh for three seasons. Groh has coached with Bill Belichick for seven seasons with the Giants, Browns, Patriots and Jets, and their 3-4 defensive systems are very similar, which undoubtedly made Dowling a more enticing prospect in Belichick's eyes.
"In the end, I thought going into the season he was a first-round draft pick quality," London said of Dowling. "He's 6-foot-plus corner that can run. It's kind of funny. I talked to Coach Belichick about a week and a half or so before the draft about various things. The conversation came up about Ras-I. Coach Groh was here. We were a 3-4 defense at the time, and there were some similarities in the terminology, the concepts and things like that that Ras-I has been exposed to when he got here as a player.
"He's big enough and he can run, so he can play man coverage. He tall enough that [he can play] any zone coverage, whether you're talking cover-2 or whatever, he's tall enough for when the quarterbacks have to make those throws between the cornerbacks and the safeties, make that a little difficult because of his ability, his height and his jump. He can tackle, so there's a mixture of things that he has been exposed to by the fact that when we were a 3-4."
The main concern about Dowling surrounded his string of injuries throughout his senior season, when he only played five games. Dowling hurt his hamstring early in 2010, and he later suffered a knee injury while fighting off a stop block in practice. He also pulled up during his 40-yard dash at the combine, but he still ran a 4.4.
"First of all, he's a great young man, character-wise and everything like that is outstanding, a young man that is blessed with a tremendous amount of athletic ability," London said. "So, as frustrating of a season as it was for him not to get on the field, he was still the type of leader and captain that you need off the field, in the locker room, things like that."
London also said 30 NFL teams were at Dowling's private pro day, and he had "close to double-digit numbers of individual meetings" with teams during the pre-draft process. Still, Dowling fell out of the first round, and London believes his former cornerback will be driven to prove he can play in the NFL at a first-round level.
"I think he's taken those things internally and used them externally as motivational factors, not particularly, like, 'You messed up for not taking me,' but for, 'Hey, I can play. I belong here, and I'll show everyone with my play,'" London said. "He doesn't talk. He doesn't talk trash. He doesn't boast about anything. He just plays. He'll let his play do the talking. He probably won't ever turn around and gloat. If he's successful, he'll be the same guy. If he struggles there, he'll be the same guy, but that's what makes him so unique. He's the same guy in terms of personality and character."