Dobson soaring above rest
HUNTINGTON -- This week at the Senior Bowl, all eyes have been on Marshall University wide receiver Aaron Dobson.
And, it's not just because he's one of the biggest wide receiver targets taking part in the game.
After a senior season that was plagued by injuries, Dobson is showing what he can do when at full health as the audience of NFL scouts and football fans grows larger by the day.
The Senior Bowl is 4 p.m., Saturday, at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala. The NFL Network has the telecast.
While Dobson has become a focal point of people looking toward the NFL Draft (April 25-27), he maintains the same thing that has kept him at a high level on the field since his days as a high school player at South Charleston.
"I enjoy it. It's not any pressure or anything," Dobson said. "I'm just going out there and showcasing my abilities. It's about having fun. I'm not really trying to be too uptight about it. I'm just having fun and doing what I can do."
The exact definition of what Dobson can do has shown itself at Senior Bowl practices.
If a person goes strictly on tangibles, they'll see that Dobson is a 6-foot-3, 205-pound target -- one of the biggest deep threats that the Senior Bowl has to offer.
In terms of big-play receivers with size, the picks are slim for this season with Dobson and Baylor's Terrance Williams being the marquee names.
Yes, big receivers with speed who can go get the football -- those are the norm in the NFL.
However, it is Dobson's other qualities -- the wide receiver intangibles -- that are turning heads among the experts.
Rob Rang, who is covering the Senior Bowl for CBSSports.com, described Dobson as a savvy route-runner whose body control and reliable hands made him a standout during practice. Rang went on to say Dobson sets up defensive backs well while also showing off his strength as a down-field blocker.
ESPN's Mel Kiper, Jr., called Dobson "a sleeper pick" who easily could go in the late first round or early second round.
As a member of the North squad, Dobson will be able to wake up the masses when he goes up against a South defensive backfield that features four SEC players, including Robert Lester of national champion Alabama.
"It's definitely going to be a challenge, and that's the reason you play the game -- to go against the best," Dobson said. "It's definitely going to be fun going up against the boys from the SEC. I'm looking forward to seeing how I do. It's going to be a great day Saturday."
Dobson's route to the Senior Bowl likely started during his 2011 junior season with a play simply dubbed "The Catch" -- a one-handed, backhand reception in Marshall's 34-27 overtime win over East Carolina that helped propel the Herd into a bowl game.
Not only did "The Catch" instantly gain him national notoriety (as in, 1 million YouTube views in its first five days and an ESPY nomination), it also started a two-game stretch in which Dobson scored four touchdowns when it mattered most.
In addition to his two-touchdown performance against East Carolina that included "The Catch," he followed by scoring both Marshall touchdowns in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl, which the Herd won 20-10 over Florida International.
The sequence was supposed to vault him into a breakout 2012 senior season, but injuries derailed the latter half of the year after a strong start.
At year's end, Dobson finished with 57 receptions for 679 yards and three touchdowns.
Those are solid numbers for most NCAA Division I receivers, but they were certainly not up to the standards that Dobson held for himself heading into 2012.
"Getting hurt over the last part of the season and not being able to play was difficult," Dobson said. "So it feels great to get down here and represent Marshall. I know there will be a lot of Marshall fans here. This is a big deal and I'm excited to represent Marshall well."
In talking about this week's impact on his draft status and all the hype he's gotten this week, Dobson's demeanor never changed.
He's still the same wide receiver from Dunbar, W.Va., trying to achieve his dreams, and he's going to continue to do the same thing that got him to the Senior Bowl in the first place.
Dobson will simply shake off the initial pressure, gain separation from his opposition and go up to grab his goals at their highest point.