By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON - Aaron Dobson knows he has a great opportunity staring at him close-up, right in the facemask grill, like a cornerback playing press coverage across the line of scrimmage.
While he was waiting for his NFL rookie contract negotiations to be completed - his four-year, $3.43 million contract was announced Thursday -- the former Marshall star wide receiver was doing what he's supposed to be doing with the New England Patriots.
"It's just a new experience," Dobson said by phone from Foxborough, Mass., earlier this week. "You try to pick up everything you can. I'm getting adjusted, trying to improve every day.
"It's about becoming a pro, and getting into the habits you carry there."
Dobson didn't have the numbers he might have liked or wanted last season as a Thundering Herd senior, as Marshall's yard-munching offense went to a move-the-chains attack, often eschewing the deep ball and the double coverage Dobson faced before he suffered a knee sprain late in the year.
However, when asked what about his Herd experience has helped him mightily in OTA (organized team activities) and minicamp with the Patriots this spring, Dobson didn't hesitate with his response.
"I think learning the fast tempo we went to at Marshall helped me a lot picking things up here," the 6-foot-3 receiver said. "We really do a lot of it, and what we did (in 2012 with the Herd) is in some ways the same.
"The playbook is different; it's different terminology, but the tempo is a lot of the same."
Dobson was New England's 59th pick in the draft (late second round) and his chances to have an impact as one of veteran quarterback Tom Brady's targets seem significant. The Patriots' receiving corps is in flux.
Tight ends Rob Gronkowski (back surgery, forearm injury) and Aaron Hernandez (legal issues) are an uncertain pair at least for early in the 2013 season, or so it seems. Wes Welker (Denver) and Danny Woodhead (San Diego) left in free agency. Brandon Lloyd and Deion Branch were released. Julian Edelman has been rehabbing a foot injury.
Those were Brady's top seven receivers in 2012. In media reports, free-agent signee Danny Amendola and Dobson seemed to get the most attention among receivers during the club's OTA and minicamp, which ended last week with the frenzy of quarterback Tim Tebow joining the club.
Dobson's agent, Isaac Conner of Allegiant in Knoxville, Tenn., said $1.1 million of Dobson's deal is guaranteed. The $3.4 million includes an $875,000 signing bonus.
"There was nothing about (negotiations) that were difficult," Conner said. "Because of the (NFL rookie contract slotting), you know pretty much where you're supposed to be, and that's where Aaron is. He's happy and I'm happy.
"You always want more, everybody does, but the Patriots are fair. They're really professional, easy to deal with."
Dobson tries to downplay his excitement about his possibilities with one of the NFL's most successful franchises.
The former Herd star was the last of New England's 2013 draft picks to sign.
"I'm just happy to be here," Dobson said. "Working with (Brady), you can't top that ... the best quarterback in the league. It's kind of amazing because I've been watching him for so long. Now, I get the chance to play with him.
"Being in the NFL is special, but working with him, it's just icing on the cake."
A recent website report placed Dobson at No. 25 among the Patriots in a power ranking, displaying the expectations for the former Herd star as a deep threat who brings speed and leaping ability to his position.
He said a signature moment came last month when he put on his Patriots' helmet for the first time.
"That was real exciting," said Dobson, who is wearing jersey No. 17. "Mostly, it's a lot of hard work. You feel like you know what to do, but actually doing it is what's important. And it's special to me.
"The biggest thing is taking care of your body. This is your business, and you can't do business if your body isn't ready. That's definitely the biggest thing. It's a job now."
Until training camp opens July 25 at the Patriots' practice facility adjacent to Gillette Stadium, the Marshall graduate said he will be "back and forth" between his parents' home in Dunbar and his pro football base in Massachusetts. His first camp experiences will include an early August reunion with former Herd teammate Vinny Curry.
Curry is heading into his second season on Philadelphia's defensive line. The Eagles and Patriots will hold joint training camp workouts Aug. 6-7 in Philadelphia before they meet in an Aug. 9 preseason opener at Lincoln Financial Field.
"It's been fun but it's been hard work," Dobson said. "I just try to take it day-by-day, learn the system. Playing football is something I've done since I was a little kid.
"In some ways it really doesn't feel like a job, but it is."