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Monday, September 4, 2006
New Pats WR Gabriel gets crash course before opener

Associated Press

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Doug Gabriel took the redeye from California, plunged into his Patriots playbook and met Tom Brady.

Doug Gabriel
Gabriel

"When I first saw him I had a big smile, like should I speak to him? Should I say something to him?" Gabriel said Monday. "I just sat there and I didn't want to say anything."

The wide receiver was wide-eyed before meeting his new quarterback, still stunned by the Saturday trade that brought him to New England from the Oakland Raiders.

Their introduction at a team meeting on Saturday was just part of the time Gabriel spent with the Pro Bowl quarterback with three Super Bowl rings.

Gabriel has plenty to learn before the Patriots begin their season Sunday at home against Buffalo.

He thinks he can help a depleted corps of wide receivers without holdout Deion Branch and probably second-round draft pick Chad Jackson, who has been sidelined most of camp with a hamstring injury.

"I'm comfortable with myself," Gabriel said, "so I've just got to get in my playbook so I'll be ready."

The 6-foot-2, 215-pound receiver with an ability to stretch the defense was scheduled to start for the Raiders in their opener on Monday against San Diego. He wasn't expecting the phone call that came as he headed to a team meeting.

"When I first saw [Tom Brady] I had a big smile, like should I speak to him? Should I say something to him? I just sat there and I didn't want to say anything."
-- Doug Gabriel

"It did come out of nowhere," he said. "I'm not going to say I'm upset but I'm just clueless about it."

The Patriots are without last year's two starting wide receivers.

Branch, coming off the best of his four seasons, filed two grievances against the team after he received contract offers from other teams with the Patriots permission but wasn't traded. He is due $1.045 million in the final year of his contract. Last year's other starter, David Givens, signed with Tennessee as a free agent.

The Raiders were deep at wide receiver with Randy Moss, Ronald Curry and Jerry Porter. Acquiring Gabriel only cost the Patriots a fifth-round draft pick, the same spot where he was drafted by Oakland out of Central Florida in 2003.

The trade reunites Gabriel with cornerback Asante Samuel, a former college teammate.

"When we were in college we were competing on the field but we always were together off the field," Gabriel said.

The Patriots had only two wide receivers on the roster, Troy Brown and Reche Caldwell, who have practiced with the team regularly since training camp began on July 28. Brown, a 14-year veteran, started only three games last year, while Caldwell started two for San Diego.

On Sunday, the Patriots claimed wide receiver Jonathan Smith off waivers from Buffalo, giving them two who will have been with the team barely a week by next Sunday's opener.

"It's definitely a crash course," coach Bill Belichick said. "We are absolutely spending a lot of time with them and they're spending a lot of time trying to learn as much as they can in a short amount of time.

"It will be as accelerated as we can make it, but at the same time I think you run the risk of overload, so you have to be careful just how much you do and I think it depends on the individual. Both of them are coming from systems that are significantly different than what we do."

Smith has eight catches in two seasons with Buffalo since being drafted in the seventh round in 2004 from Georgia Tech. Gabriel has 71 catches in three seasons, including a career-high 37 last year. He also was a regular kickoff returner in his first two years with Oakland.

After being traded, he took the overnight flight from California and went straight to Gillette Stadium where he asked for the playbook.

"I was ready to work," he said.

He'd better be.

"You hear it all across the league that the Patriots work hard and that's what I'm ready to do," Gabriel said. "It's a good opportunity to be on a great team so I'm happy."

He should be with perhaps the NFL's best quarterback throwing to him.

"We've been talking a lot, just basically [preparing] is not physical. It's more mental. So it's good for me," Gabriel said. "He's got a knowledge for the game. I'm glad I'm here to be in the system with him and I know for a fact he's going to get the ball to whoever's open."

This Sunday, that could be Gabriel.

"I've been doing this for a long time so I don't think it's going to be difficult" to be ready, he said.