FOXBORO, Mass. — By the time New England Patriots rookie cornerback Duke Dawson Jr. next takes the field, it will be a year or more since his last meaningful game action.
Dawson’s last college game came Nov. 25, 2017 in Florida’s 38-22 loss to Florida State. He played just 16 defensive snaps in Week 2 of the Patriots’ preseason before injuring his hamstring. He was placed on injured reserve to start the season and was activated before the Patriots’ bye week. Dawson, a 2018 second-round pick, is eligible to play Sunday against the New York Jets exactly one year since his last game action that actually counted.
“It’s very exciting,” Dawson said. “As a competitor, you always want to go out and compete, just help the team any way that you could. That’s just been me my whole life.”
Dawson said he’s not sure what his role will be but that he’s been practicing inside in the slot. That’s a role that’s mostly been manned by cornerback Jonathan Jones this season.
Jones has played 229 snaps in the slot, followed by safety Patrick Chung with 114, cornerback Stephon Gilmore with 76, cornerback Jason McCourty with 73 and safety Devin McCourty with 65, according to Pro Football Focus.
Jones has let up 30 catches on 43 targets for 321 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Chung has allowed 11 catches on 15 targets for 83 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in that role. Devin McCourty has let up 14 catches on 14 targets for 150 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
The Patriots could use an upgrade in that position. Overall, they’ve allowed 85 catches on 118 targets for 866 yards with eight touchdowns and three interceptions to receivers in the slot. That calculates to 104.7 passer rating.
Dawson wasn’t a standout in limited snaps during training camp and the preseason, but coaches and teammates have praised him for staying involved while on injured reserve.
“If I had to play 50 snaps, I could play 50 snaps,” Dawson said of his pro debut. “It’s nothing new to me. It’s football. Just being able to get back out there in great condition, and just being able to stay in tune with every detail as far as the gameplan, that’s what I’ve been doing.”
Devin McCourty and slot receiver Julian Edelman also both described Dawson as competitive.
“Feisty guy that comes in and works hard, doesn’t back down,” Edelman said. “He’s great to compete against.”
Edelman is a slot receiver himself. So, it’s not surprising that he and Dawson have done battle in practice.
“I think he’s going out there and doing a good job of competing against our best guys — whether it be Jules, (Chris) Hogan, Phil (Dorsett), J.G. (Josh Gordon), just trying to compete and make plays,” McCourty said.
“And I think as a young guy, nothing gets you better than being over there and going against our offense.”