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Competition interesting at tight end

New England has three viable options for replacing a possible Hall of Fame tight end. The departure of Ben Coates leaves free agent pickup Eric Bjornson, third-year man Rod Rutledge and rookie Dave Stachelski to battle for the starting nod.

None of the three will match the years Coates put up during his prime. However, each is capable of at least matching the 32 catches and two touchdowns Coates had in 1999. Despite Coates' stellar career, the team may actually have upgraded from a year ago.

Bjornson should have the edge after his years in Dallas. He had just 10 catches a year ago, but that had more to do with the offense Dallas ran than Bjornson's ability to hold on to passes. He caught 48 balls in 1996 and 47 more in '97 before injuries caused him to fall out of favor with the Cowboys coaching staff. Rutledge is a better blocker than Bjornson, but his receiving skills are not as strong.

Stachelski may be the tight end of the future, but he'll be behind when training camp starts. He missed the team's mini-camp with a knee injury, and his decision to have surgery performed in Seattle was a bit perplexing. He needs to adjust to this level, but he has a lot of talent.

Kerry Taylor spent 1999 with the Patriots practice squad and is looking for an increased role in 2000. Local products Rob Tardio of Boston College and Chris Eitzmann of Harvard both have work to do if they want to catch the eye of the coaching staff.

Tight ends (6)Ht.Wt.Exp.Notes
Eric Bjornson6-42366Solid free agent pickup who could flourish in new scheme.
Rod Rutledge6-52323After two years as backup would like to become starter. Good blocker.
Dave Stachelski6-3250RFifth-round pick needs confidence, but has skills.
Kerry Taylor6-22521Would like to catch on after a year on the practice squad.
Rob Tardio6-52451First-year player with decent hands out of Boston College.
Chris Eitzmann6-5260RHarvard grad with big size but long odds.
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