NFL context: Pats & special teams

July, 3, 2010
7/03/10
7:00
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Eleventh and final part in a series looking at each position on the Patriots roster and how it is viewed when compared to the rest of the NFL:

Projected starters: Stephen Gostkowski (kicker), Jake Ingram (long snapper), Zoltan Mesko (punter), Brandon Tate (primary kickoff returner), Julian Edelman (primary punt returner)

NFL chatter: The Patriots hit it big with Gostkowski when they drafted him in the fourth round in 2006. He is an upper echelon kicker with one of the game's more powerful legs, which makes him a valuable weapon in the field-position game.

Overall depth chart: When looking at the specialists -- Gostkowski, Ingram and Mesko -- all were the first players drafted at their position when they came into the league, which means they were the highest-rated players on the Patriots' board. So the specialists look solid. The kickoff return unit was a disappointment in 2009 and Tate figures to get one of the first opportunities to become a go-to guy as a primary returner. Pierre Woods, Kyle Arrington, Sam Aiken and Matthew Slater are top coverage players.

Final analysis: As promising of a group of specialists as the Patriots have had from a 1-2-3 perspective. Mesko's rookie status creates an element of the unknown. Combining that with the Patriots' overall inconsistency on kickoff returns in 2009, and likely losing Wes Welker on punt returns, puts this group in the middle of the NFL pack at this time.

Other positions: Quarterbacks; Running backs; Wide receivers; Tight ends; Offensive line; Defensive line; Outside linebackers; Inside linebackers; Safeties; Cornerbacks

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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