FOXBOROUGH — It's too early to determine if Aaron Dobson is ready for contact.
He doesn't even know how to answer the question, let alone if he'll play in Friday's preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
"But I’m out here right now," Dobson offers, "so I’m just going to take it what it gives."
Scoured by a foot injury that required surgery and reportedly a permanent screw in his left foot, the Patriots top draft choice at wide receiver in 2013 is slowly getting back into the mix, with his first padded practice on Tuesday against the Eagles. He made his first appearance at a Patriots training camp practice on Monday, coming off the physically unable to perform list. But he didn't participate in any team drills and wasn't subjected to 1-on-1s with the Eagles defensive backs.
"I feel good," Dobson said. "I’m progressing well so I’m just taking it day by day to see how it goes."
Dobson's return, even on a limited basis, comes at a time when the Patriots are solidifying their wide receiver corps amid a raging battle among the second-year players. Kenbrell Thompkins, Josh Boyce, and newcomer Brian Tyms have all asserted themselves at one point in camp. Thompkins appears to be the front runner, but after a strong preseason outing (5 receptions for 119 yards a touchdown), Tyms appears to be on his coattails. Dobson's inclusion throws the group for a loop. Somehow, he has to get up to speed physically, find his rhythm with Tom Brady, and improve upon last year.
From observations of Dobson in two days in practice, he appears to be able to cut and plant on his left foot. But he has yet to show his full speed in practice, which was his most notable positive trait in training camp last season. It's especially hard to determine how ready a player is coming off a foot injury when they're not pressed into situations that force them to make awkward movements laterally, something we'll see when he begins to take part in contact drills.
For him though, despite a missed offseason program and a delayed start in training camp, he's got a positive attitude to back himself up as he looks to get fully healthy. And he's been bookish in meetings, so he's confident his head is in the right place.
"It was hard, you know. It’s always ups and downs [and] adversity you gotta go through," Dobson said. "But I’m just happy to be back out here now, you know. I’m just progressing and seeing how it’s going to go for the rest of the week and before the season starts."