Though they let go preseason standout Bam Childress, the Patriots added two new receivers to their roster this Labor Day weekend.
Doug Gabriel was taking reps with the Raider's starting offense last week. By Sunday he was on a red-eye flight to New England.
Asked how he felt about coming to the Patriots, Gabriel responded, "For me and my family, it was a good chance and a good opportunity that coach Belichick gave me, so I'm real happy."
He says he isn't frustrated about leaving his high spot on the Raider's depth chart to come to New England. Part of that may have to do with who he'll now be catching passes from.
"When I first saw [Tom Brady] it was a big smile, like, 'Man should I speak to him or should I say something first?' It was pretty good," laughed Gabriel. "He actually came up to me. It was in meetings. I just sat there and kind of, well you know, I didn't want to say nothing.
"He's got a knowledge for the game. I'm glad I'm here and will be in the system with him. I know for a fact he'll get the ball to whoever's open. That's a good thing."
Initially taken by the Raiders in the fifth round of the 2003 draft, Gabriel has played in 42 games with seven starts during his first three seasons. He's caught 71 passes for 1,122 yards and five touchdowns and returned 86 kickoffs for 1,850 yards and one touchdown.
With his versatility as a returner and receiver, it's no wonder he was on coach Belichick's radar this preseason.
"Doug (Gabriel) is a guy that we've kind of been watching all through preseason. I think he's been a productive player for the Raiders," said Belichick in his Monday press conference.
"He's big. He has some quickness. He can catch the ball. He's had some production in the return game. I think there are a number of areas that he'll be competitive in. We'll see how all of that works out and where he can contribute."
At 6-2, 215 pounds, he's the biggest Patriot receiver. Last season was a career year for Gabriel, catching 37 passes for 554 yards and three touchdowns.
He also recorded his first two 100-yard receiving games last year. Against the Bills, Gabriel caught five passes for 101 yards and had a season-long 38-yarder. With the season opener verses the Bills this Sunday, Gabriel doesn't think he'll have trouble adjusting to the Patriots offense in time for the game.
"I've been doing this for a long time, so I don't think it's going to be different," he said. "I'm comfortable with myself, so basically if I get in my books, I'll be ready. It's going to be real good."
Gabriel also seemed comforted by Asante Samuel's presence on the team. He and Samuel both entered the 2003 draft out of Central Florida. The two had a chance to catch up on Sunday.
"I went to school with Asante (Samuel). It was a little funny, because when we were in college we were always competing on the field but we always were together off the field. He helped me and I helped him. It's going to be good," predicted Gabriel. "He told me, 'Come to work.'"
It seems that's exactly what Gabriel intends to do in New England.
Jonathan Smith arrived at Gillette Stadium after being claimed off waivers from the Bills. Buffalo originally selected him in the seventh round of the 2004 NFL draft. Smith has proven himself to be quite versatile for the Bills, recording eight receptions for 77 yards, 15 punt returns for 198 yards and six kick returns for 152 yards in his professional career.
"He's another guy that we've, of course, competed against. He's had some success against us, but again, watching him in preseason, Jonathan (Smith) has played in the slot. He's played outside. He's returned kicks. So he is another guy that we feel has some versatility and, again, any moves we make are moves that we feel are in the best interest of the football team that can help us and improve us. We feel like he can do that, so that's why we claimed him," explained Belichick Monday.
The 5-10, 194-pound Smith was Georgia Tech's main offensive weapon in his senior year. In addition to regular duties as a wideout and punt returner, he also lined up at halfback and quarterback in college.
Asked how quickly he thinks Gabriel and Smith can contribute to the team with the season opener just a few days away, Belichick responded, "That's a good question. I wish I knew the answer to that. It's definitely a crash course. 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. We'll get them on the field and do some things and watch it on film and correct it and all that. 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.
"They both have some experience in the league and I'm sure a lot of the things that we do are things they've done before, but they were called differently or the terminology was different. Sometimes that is an easy transition once you just change the word associations or numbers or whatever they are, then the concepts are the same. We'll just have to see how it goes."
Wide receiverBam Childress was released yesterday and Belichick said he'll go through waivers at 4 p.m. today, because it's the first weekday since his release - despite the holiday.
Now that the 53-man roster is decided, the temporary lockers were removed from the team locker room. Rookies making the team have taken permanent lockers and a few players have received new numbers for the regular season. As of today, Eric Alexander will be wearing jetisoned Monty Beisel's old number 52. Willie Andrews will be wearing 23, Le Kevin Smith will wear 90, Gabriel will wear 85 and Smith will wear 81. Also, Pierre Woods will be wearing 58 – a number made famous by Patriot center turned radio analyst and President of the New England Patriots Alumni Club, Pete Brock. A large banner displaying a photo of Brock can be seen on the exterior of Gillette Stadium's South side.