FOXBORO, Mass. — Sony Michel isn’t the only New England Patriots draft pick with the chance to play a significant role in his rookie season.
Cornerback Duke Dawson, a second-round pick out of Florida, has emerged as the leading candidate for the Patriots’ slot corner job through seven training camp practices.
Dawson regularly sees reps with the first-team defense, playing alongside starters Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe when New England brings a third cornerback onto the field. So far this summer, he and Michel, a running back drafted 31st overall, are the only Patriots rookies who have seen consistent time with the top units, though Michel currently is injured.
Other young corners have made more standout plays during camp, but the Patriots seem to be particularly high on Dawson. He’s hoping to prove them right.
“It’s more about being in position and just knowing what you have to do,” Dawson said after Thursday’s practice. “That’s the main thing I harp on myself about — just coming out trying to do everything right.”
Asked about his high volume of first-team slot snaps, he added: “I’ll play whatever the team wants me to play. I don’t come in wanting to do this or wanting to do that. Whatever position they put me in, I’ve just got to come out and compete every day and get better.”
Dawson played both corner spots as well as safety during his four seasons with the Gators, prompting Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio to rave about his versatility on draft night. He intercepted four passes as a senior in 2017 and allowed a 37.1 passer rating against.
Playing in the SEC, Dawson was accustomed to covering highly athletic receivers each week. The biggest change he’s noticed since joining the NFL, he said, is the increased emphasis on off-the-field preparation.
“You’ve just got to know where to be, when to be,” the 22-year-old said. “That’s one thing that I feel like is a big transition (for) guys coming from college to the NFL. … The film room is the classroom, so I’m always in there studying film. Even when I go to my hotel room or whatever, I’m always looking at stuff, and little things that I did wrong, I try to improve coming out the next day.”
Cornerback will be one of the top positions to watch once the preseason begins.
Gilmore is locked into one starting spot, but Jason McCourty or J.C. Jackson could challenge Rowe for the other, and Ryan Lewis could begin to siphon reps from Dawson if he continues to impress the way he has of late. Also in the mix are Jonathan Jones and Cyrus Jones, both of whom are on the physically unable to perform list and have yet to practice in camp. The former should make the roster based on his special teams value if he gets healthy.
Despite this internal competition, Dawson said his fellow Patriots defensive backs have embraced him.
“Our locker room is like a family,” he said. “When I first got here, I didn’t know things were going to be like they were, and they took me in as a new brother. I see them as big brothers now.”
Thumbnail photo via Zack Cox/NESN.com
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