FOXBORO -- It wasn't a big deal. It just seemed odd.
When the Patriots posted photos of their rookie minicamp online last week, the shots were pretty typical of this time of year. Players running through bag drills. Players catching footballs. Players blocking other players holding pads.
The jersey numbers, though, stood out. They were, you could say, atypical.
Danny Etling, a quarterback drafted in the seventh round, wore No. 58. Sixth-round receiver Braxton Berrios, who measures in at 5-foot-9, 183 pounds, wore a number usually reserved for players about 50-60 pounds heavier: No. 55. Duke Dawson (pictured above), the team's second-round corner, was in jersey No. 52.
"We all got it," Dawson said of the funky-number treatment. "Everything is earned. It's not given. You've got to come in and earn everything."
That wasn't the spoken message from the coaching staff, Dawson explained, but that was what he took from the jersey assignments.
"You can just sense it," he said. "You can feel it. That's how I look at it."
That's generally one of the major lessons Patriots rookies absorb after their first few days at Gillette Stadium: It doesn't matter how you got to Foxboro, whether it was through the draft, undrafted free agency or a rookie tryout. It's what you do when you arrive.
And when rookies arrived this year, they went to work in numbers that reminded them they had a long way to go before they earned more permanent digits.
One player who had a jersey that matched his position was linebacker Christian Sam. He wore No. 54, which currently belongs to veteran 'backer Dont'a Hightower.
Never mind the number, Sam said. Asked what it felt like to wear some gear with the Patriots logo attached, after a long pre-draft process of workouts and interviews, he replied, "Blessed."