Dobson was targeted nine times in the Patriots' 16-13 loss to the New York Giants, and finished the game with three receptions for 57 yards and a touchdown. The unspectacular stat line doesn't take away from a spectacular night for Dobson. He appeared comfortable in every way, after being hobbled throughout most of the offseason program.
The second-year wideout missed significant time while rehabbing from a stress fracture in his left foot that required a permanent screw to be inserted. He spent most of organized team activities and mandatory minicamp running back and forth across the field, riding a stationary bike, or using an elliptical. Training camp started similarly for Dobson, who did not practice until Aug. 11.
Even when he returned, it was on a limited basis. Dobson still wasn't participating in team drills, sticking strictly to one-on-one work and running routes "against air" (with no defender in coverage across from him).
He was thrown into the fire for the first time on Thursday night, and while there were some signs of rust from Dobson, it was mostly a positive night—if for no reason other than his ability to get back on the field and run routes at full speed, unhindered by the injured foot.
Aaron Dobson looks good for a guy who has been limited all summer. Nice to have him back.— Mark Daniels (@MarkDanielsPJ) August 29, 2014
The Patriots have plenty of depth at wide receiver with the likes of Brandon LaFell, Kenbrell Thompkins, Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman on the roster. What they don't have is the size, speed and downfield playmaking ability that Dobson brings to the table.
He is the biggest receiver on the roster, with a 6'3", 200-pound frame and 33-inch long arms that give him the ability to play physically, get away from a jam at the line of scrimmage and to make contested catches. It did not take him long to remind people of those distinct characteristics.
As the "X receiver" on this play, Dobson was lined up on the opposite side of the field from the tight end and lined up on the line of scrimmage. One of the problems an X receiver will often deal with is that the cornerback will press up to the line of scrimmage, forcing the receiver to get around him in tight quarters.
For this reason, an X receiver needs to have a quick first step to get off the line of scrimmage and away from the cornerback. He must also have the ability to get down the sideline, and the physicality to make a tough catch in a one-on-one situation.
This play was a check list of everything you look for in an X receiver. Dobson got around cornerback Trumaine McBride at the line of scrimmage, raced down the sideline, got away from the physical coverage downfield (it looked like McBride held Dobson a little at the end), made the leaping catch and scored.
Dobson wasn't finished quite yet, and made another nice downfield reception with 2:46 remaining in the second quarter.
Once again, he was lined up as the X receiver and pressed at the line of scrimmage, this time by Giants cornerback Jayron Hosley.
Wisely, Dobson went to the inside to get away from the jam after the ball was snapped. Why was this wise? Because Dobson was running a corner route, breaking to the outside, and by giving himself more space between him and the sideline, he gave quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo a bigger window to complete the pass.
Garoppolo helped himself a little on the play, too, by keeping his eyes down the middle of the field and holding the safety there with his eyes. If Brady and Dobson can connect on plays like these two, the Patriots offense could have its first true deep threat since Randy Moss terrorized defenses from 2007-2010.
That is, if Brady and Dobson can get on the same page and stay there. The two had difficulties hooking up at times in 2013, but they seemed to be forging a bond before having the carpet pulled out from underneath Dobson's left foot.
Dobson finished last season with 37 receptions for 519 yards and four touchdowns, but earned all but two of those catches and 27 of those yards before being injured in Week 12. He missed three games before returning for the final two games of the regular season, but was re-injured and missed the Patriots' first playoff game.
If the two can pick up where they left off before Dobson's injury, the results could be scary for opposing defenses.
Dobson looked mighty fine catching passes from Garoppolo, and he may be doing that again in the regular season sometime in the future. For now, he has to look even better catching passes from Brady if the Patriots offense is going to reach its maximum potential in 2014.