Entering his third season in the NFL, Patriots tight end Daniel Graham is in the in-between phase of his young pro career. No longer the newest rookie or the team's top draft pick, the 6-3, 257-pound Colorado alum is in that stage where players are no longer evaluated as much on potential as they are on production.
With that in mind Graham has spent a great deal of energy this offseason working on his hands in an attempt to bring his pass-catching capabilities to the level that many expected when the Patriots traded up to select the John Mackey Award winner with the 21st pick in the 2002 draft.
"I am just trying to get better," Graham said following a recent workout at Gillette Stadium. "It's just something that I wanted to do, focus on catching the ball more and getting a lot more balls in the offseason."
A year ago Graham started nine of 14 games played, finishing the year with 38 receptions for 409 yards and four touchdowns, all career bests. In two seasons he has developed a reputation as a solid blocker both from his tight end spot and coming across the formation in motion, but Graham hopes to put it all together as a single package in 2004.
"That's part of my game," Graham said of his blocking. "I believe that's why they drafted me here because I was able to block and catch the ball."
Graham hopes that the offseason pass catching will pay off within what he believes could be a more potent New England offense. With the additions of former Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon and rookie tight end Benjamin Watson, Charlie Weis should have even more offensive options this fall.
"My reaction [to the Watson pick] was just that we were getting another good tight end and that our coaches must have big plans, something to do with a lot of tight ends this year," Graham said. "I think he has a lot of speed and can catch the ball. We'll just wait to put the pads on and see what he can do blocking wise. But he looks like a real good tight end.
"Dillon is going to change this offense and he's going to help this offense out a lot. He's just going to open up the passing game for the receivers and tight ends."
That's a scary thought for a team that went 14-2 during the regular season a year ago and rode a 15-game winning streak to Super Bowl glory. But around Gillette Stadium, those statistics are ancient history.
"I've enjoyed what comes along with winning the Super Bowl, but I know that time has come and gone," Graham said. "It's time to get ready for a new season and everything…all the good stuff that happened with the Super Bowl, we are trying to earn that again and have the same feeling next year.
"It is like when I first got here and the team won the first Super Bowl ring, I was telling a lot of my family and friends that you would never have known that they won the Super Bowl around here. I have that same feeling this year. We are all looking forward to another great year and we just can't wait for another exciting season. It's not about a win streak around here, it's about a whole new season and doing what we can to get to the Super Bowl again."
Either way Graham certainly seems to have done his best this offseason to prepare for 2004, a season he will enter with higher personal expectations.
"I've done a lot of things this offseason that are going to make me a better player next year and I am looking forward to a great year."
Inside Edition will air a segment on Wednesday night on the Patriots Cheerleaders' recent calendar photo shoot. The show will air tonight at 7 p.m. on WCVB channel 5 in Boston. … WBCN 104.1 FM officially announced on Wednesday that Gary Tanguay has joined the Patriots Rock Radio Network for pre- and post-game broadcast duties. WBCN also announced that Howie Sylvester will executive produce the game day coverage from the WBCN studios in Boston. … Corey Dillon will co-host NFL Total Access on the NFL Network on Thursday. Willie McGinest held down co-host duties on NFLTA on Tuesday, all part of "Players Only" week on the NFL Network. … The Patriots released veteran cornerback Otis Smith on Wednesday.