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Patriots Unfiltered Tue Jan 31 | 11:55 AM - 02:00 PM

Changes afoot in kicking game

The Patriots are forced to make moves at kicker and long snapper.

Long snappers are like referees – if you're not hearing about them, that's a good thing. And much like their counterparts on the offensive line, they're better off going unnoticed.

However, when you join a playoff-contending team as an emergency replacement midseason, the media's going to want to talk to you.

"Hopefully, after this, I won't have to talk to you guys much anymore," laughed Matt Katula, New England's new long snapper. "That's kind of the goal."

The 28-year-old Katula (6-6, 265), in his sixth NFL season out of Wisconsin, joins 32-year-old placekicker Shayne Graham(6-0, 214) as newcomers on the Patriots roster. In Katula's case, he's replacing Jake Ingram, a 2009 draft choice who was released after having struggled throughout his sophomore season in New England. Graham was brought in to fill the sizeable void created when Stephen Gostkowskiwas placed on injured reserve.

Gostkowski, an All-Pro in 2008, experienced tightness in his leg during pregame warm-ups in Cleveland, and had to be replaced during the game when the pain became too severe for him to perform. Media reports surfaced today that the reliable Gostkowski had torn his quadriceps muscle. His placement on IR now guarantees that he won't be back on the field this year.

Enter Graham. In his 10th NFL season, most of which were spent in Cincinnati, Graham provides about the best insurance policy the Patriots could garner at this point in the season. His 85.2-percent field goal accuracy is the fifth best total in NFL history. He also has a Pro Bowl to his credit, and has worked with special teams coach Scott O'Brienwhen the two were in Carolina during the 2002 season. Then, as now, Graham was brought in as a mid-season replacement for injured kicker John Kasay.

Most recently, Graham kicked for the New York Giants last month when their regular kicker, Lawrence Tynes, was banged up. Graham had been with the Baltimore Ravens throughout the offseason and training camp before eventually losing the job to Billy Cundiff. He'd been out of work, save the Giants cameo, ever since.

"Anytime a team loses a player, it's hard for the team to go through. No one wants to see a player go down with injury … especially a player the caliber of Stephen," Graham told reporters during his first day on the job.

At the same time, he can't help but find a silver lining for himself.

"When you get your opportunities, you try to make the best of them," Graham continued. "My goal is to come in here and perform at my best and perform well for the team and help us win games and help the team make all the goals they set for themselves. The fact that I haven't been on a team for every game this year makes me a little hungry, makes me look forward to getting my career going again."

"His performance in the league is definitely a positive for him. He's had a good career – an outstanding career," head coach Bill Belichick said, explain his decision to sign Graham.

"I thought he performed well this year when he's had an opportunity. Scott had him, so he's got a background with him. I think all those things were favorable for him. But he's a good kicker. He's had a real good career."

The fact that Graham and Matula, Baltimore's long snapper the past five seasons, worked with each other as Ravens is another benefit that could help speed the transition. However, the more important factor will be how quickly punter Zoltan Mesko, the holder for field goals and extra points, can get comfortable working with two new colleagues.

"Well we've got a few days, so it doesn't really matter," Belichick noted. "We'll do the best we can in the time that we have. I know those guys have gotten started on it already. We know there's a lot of work to do, so we'll get at it. But, you know, they've all played in the league. They're all hardworking guys and I'm sure they'll do what they can in the next few days to get it the best that it can be."

"I don't feel it's going to be a challenge," Graham insisted. "Matt's very capable … we get along great. With Mesko, I think we'll have a great operation. I look forward to it."

While Graham's field goal percentage rivals that of the man he's replacing, the Patriots may miss Gostkowski most when it comes to kickoffs. Gostkowski was among the best in the league in yards (nearly 68 per kickoff) and touchbacks (15) this year, and was on pace to shatter his own record for touchbacks in a season. Graham meanwhile, has only had double-digit touchbacks once in his career.

That could put New England at a disadvantage in terms of field position allowed to opponents going forward. But Graham expressed confidence in his abilities, even though he hasn't had steady work in a while.

"For the past several weeks, I've been working out with different teams and been getting those snaps and holds almost once a week with NFL guys. So, I've been able to get the rhythm and confidence. I've been striking the ball well and look forward to continuing that when it matters.

"It's definitely big shoes to fill," he added of replacing Gostkowski. "But I'm confident I'm going to play my best. Hopefully, the team won't skip a beat."

Wed 11/10 Practice Notebook

For news and notes from Wednesday's practice, including comments from RB Fred Tayloron his first day back on field, please visit the PFW Blog.

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