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Patriots.com News Blitz - 4/7/06

Jerome Solomon of the Boston Globe and Tom Curran of the Providence Journal report that the Patriots signed kicker Martin Gramatica, a veteran free agent, yesterday two weeks after losing Vinatieri to the Indianapolis Colts. Coincidentally, Indianapolis was the last NFL home for Gramatica. Gramatica, who was not in the league last season, last kicked in 2004, a season in which he was released by Tampa Bay two days after missing a trio of field goals (one was blocked) against the Panthers in the 11th game of that season. A week and a half later he signed with the Colts, serving as the team's kickoff specialist for the final four games of the regular season. He underwent surgery last June to repair tears in his lower abdomen and adductor muscle, injuries he says were responsible for his erratic kicking in 2003 and '04. The injury is the same one Patriots quarterback Tom Brady had surgery to repair in February.

John Tomase of the Boston Herald and Alan Greenberg of the Hartford Courant report that the Patriots welcomed back a familiar face yesterday when they signed safety Tebucky Jones, a first-round draft pick of the Patriots in 1998. Jones was with the Pats in 2001 when they won their first of three championships. In the Super Bowl, he returned a Kurt Warner fumble 98 yards for a touchdown that was called back by a Willie McGinest holding penalty. Jones was traded to New Orleans in April 2003 and then moved on last year to Miami, where a torn pectoral muscle ended his season after six games.

Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes that the NFL released the 2006 schedule yesterday. The Patriots will open the regular season against Buffalo Bills at home Sept. 10 and end the regular season with a Dec. 31 game at Tennessee, which finished 4-12 last season. Six of the 13 teams the Patriots face failed to win more than five games a year ago, and their 2006 opponents' combined record was 103-105. For a look at the full Patriots 2006 schedule - click here. John Tomase of the Boston Herald, Michael Felger of the Boston Herald also offer their take on the Patriots schedule.

Mark Farinella of the Sun Chronicle writes that the Patriots will still be prime-time players in 2006, with three nationally televised games scheduled and the flexibility in their schedule to add more. According to the NFL schedule released Thursday afternoon, the Patriots will make their first appearance on NBC's new Sunday-night prime-time schedule on Sept. 24, a home game against the Denver Broncos (8:15 p.m.). Also on tap are back-to-back night games at Minnesota and at home against Adam Vinatieri and the Indianapolis Colts. The former will be the Patriots' lone appearance on ESPN's Monday Night Football schedule, set for Oct. 30 at 8:30 p.m., followed the next week with a return to NBC for the Colts' fourth visit to Foxboro in the past three years (Nov. 5, 8:15 p.m.), including playoffs.

The Boston Globe is reporting that Lou Imbriano, a key marketing figure for the Patriots and Revolution, has resigned to start a sports marketing business. Imbriano, vice president and chief marketing officer of the Patriots and Gillette Stadium and chief operating officer of the Revolution, had been the lead negotiator for corporate sponsorships for the stadium and both teams. "Lou's time here is much appreciated, for all he did for the Patriots," said Patriots executive director of media relations Stacey James yesterday. "No one person will take over his role. There will be a division of duties for people already on staff and it will give many deserving people an opportunity."

John Tomase of the Boston Herald offer a story on Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch. Branch says he wants and expects to remain in New England beyond this season, but he'll test the market if he must. As for a new receiving partner to replace David Givens, Branch just hopes it's someone who can limit the number of double and triple teams he's sure to see next season. Branch touched on these and a number of other topics in a recent interview, starting with his contract. He wouldn't say what kind of discussions the sides have had, but a source said negotiations should pick up around the start of training camp. "My job is to finish my contract regardless of whether I get an extension or not," Branch said. "Coach (Bill) Belichick has given me every opportunity to excel here. This is where I want to be, and I'm pretty sure things will work out for me and for us as a unit."

The Boston Globe reports that the NFL plans to hold off scheduling Sunday night games in seven of the final eight weeks -- just as playoff races start heating up -- to ensure the best games are played on NBC. The league must then announce which game will be played Sunday night at least 12 days before the date of the game. The lone exception is the season finale Dec. 31, when the switch must be made no later than six days before the game. Only Sunday games are subject to the flexible schedule that is part of the NFL's $3.6 billion contract with NBC for the Sunday night package.

Jessica Heslam of the Boston Herald writes that a national journalism group has fired off letters to the National Football League and team owners protesting their proposal to ban local TV cameras from the sidelines, a plan that has Hub sports reporters fuming. NFL team owners last month voted to kick local TV cameras off the field. Now, the local stations must get their football feeds - including Patriots games - solely from the NFL.

Mike Reiss of the Boston Globe offers a story on recently departed lineman Tom Ashworth and also ranks the teams needs as 1) Starting receiver; 2) Kicker; 3) Inside/outside linebackers; 4) Defensive back; 5) Running back; 6) Offensive line; 7) Defensive line; 8) Tight end; 9) Quarterback.

The Providence Journal notes that owners Dan Rooney of Pittsburgh and Jerry Richardson of Carolina were appointed Wednesday to head the eight-member committee that will search for the successor to commissioner Paul Tagliabue. The group was put together by Tagliabue to ensure that it includes diverse views among the owners. Rooney and Richardson are two of the owners Tagliabue trusts most. Others on the committee include Dallas' Jerry Jones and Oakland's Al Davis, both of whom have often clashed with the commissioner. Robert Kraft of New England, Lamar Hunt of Kansas City, Mike McCaskey of Chicago and Woody Johnson of the New York Jets round out the group.

Leading up to the NFL Draft, the Providence Journal's Tom Curran will profile a player at a "need" position for the Patriots each day. New England has 10 picks in the draft, six in the first four rounds. Their first-round pick is the 21st overall. Today Curran profiles Ohio State wide receiver Santonio Holmes.

Mike Reiss of the Boston Globe offers his daily sports blog with Patriots notes. Reiss also offers his latest Patriots mailbag.

Tom Curran of the Providence Journal offers his daily sports blog with Patriots notes and commentary.

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