In the wake of last Sunday's loss to the Colts, the Patriots signed seven practice squad players to the active roster on Tuesday, securing their association with the team. While none of these guys took a single snap in an actual game this season, they were with the team at practice every day. Some of them may sharpen their skills in the NFL Europa this Spring and some may leave for good, but they're all officially part of the team right now. Here's what the additions mean to the team:
Punters Danny Baugher and Tom Malone
The Patriots had an unstable year in terms of punting. They began the season with 11-year veteran Josh Miller, who performed well through the Week 11 game at Green Bay. Before being placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury, Miller was averaging 43.0 yards per punt (net 35.8). He's been a reliable punter for the Pats, posting his second-best career average in 2005 (45.1), and is still under contract, but he's going to be 37 in July and may be nearing the end of his career.
Danny Baugher, a rookie out of Arizona, came in as a practice squad punter right before Miller's departure, but he didn't make the active roster this season. Tom Malone is essentially in the same boat as Baugher – they even shared the same locker during the playoffs – also arriving to the practice squad late in the season as a rookie free agent out of Southern California.
After a brief stint where Ken Walter was brought in to handle punting responsibilities (he also ultimately ended up on IR), Todd Sauerbrun took over, carrying the team through the last two games of the regular season and handling punting duties in all three postseason contests. He really heated up in the playoffs, averaging 51.4 yards per punt against Indy last weekend, but he'll likely move on after being brought in as an emergency fill-in. He and Walter are both scheduled for unrestricted free agency.
Sauerbrun doubles as a kickoff specialist, but it's not likely the Pats will need one of those any time soon either. Stephen Gostkowski has been very reliable on kickoffs.
It appears the job may be up for grabs, so Baugher and Malone could be battling it out for the spot come training camp.
Tight end Matt KranchickKranchick played two games with the Steelers in 2004 and six more with the Giants in '05, but he's only started once (for the Giants). The 6-foot-7-inch, 260-pound tight end specializes in blocking. While everyone loves double-duty tight ends like San Diego's Antonio Gates, a good blocking tight end could be a big help to the Patriots offense next season.
Often regarded as one of the top blocking tight ends in the NFL, offensive co-captain Daniel Graham will be an unrestricted free agent in the beginning of March. He's also been an effective pass-catcher for the Pats, but if he walks, Kranchick could have a chance to step in.
Offensive linemen Sean Bubin and Brian Barthelmes
Technically a first-year tackle, Bubin was drafted by the Jaguars in 2004 and spent last year on the Vikings practice squad. The 6-foot-6-inch, 305-pounder was allocated to the NFL Europa (formerly NFL Europe) League last Spring, playing for the Hamburg Sea Devils.
Tackle Nick Kaczur, like the rest of the starters on the Pats offensive line, will be under contract through 2009. However, it took him a long time to recover from a shoulder injury this season. He wasn't healthy enough to start until the Pats Nov. 5 meeting with the Colts. Assuming the Patriots don't spend any draft picks on offensive linemen, Bubin could challenge Kaczur or even Matt Light for a spot on the Pats offensive line.
Center Barthelmes was originally signed to the practice squad as an undrafted free agent this season. The 6-foot-6-inch, 300-pound offensive lineman participated in the first three games of the 2006 preseason before being released during roster cut-downs. He was on and off the practice squad this season. The depth at center includes Russ Hochstein, who's also a reserve guard; and Gene Mruczkowski, who's been on-again off-again as well – though he's at least seen some playing time. Barthelmes could duke it out with Mruczkowski in training camp, but Hochstein will be entering his fifth year with the Pats and should be tough to pass on the depth chart.
Defensive lineman Santonio ThomasThe three first-round draft picks holding down the Patriots defensive line are all outstanding at their respective positions. BackupsMike Wright and Jarvis Green both recorded starts this season, and are basically starting-caliber defensive linemen. Behind them are Le Kevin Smith andMarquise Hill, both of whom subbed in sparingly this season.
Thomas is technically a first year player. He spent the season on the practice squad, and was also with the team in 2005, signing from the practice squad at this time last year as well.
Running back Quadtrine HillHill, a rookie in 2006, only arrived on the Patriots practice squad Jan. 3. He was originally signed by the Houston Texans last Spring, and spent a few days with the Bears, but hadn't been with a team since August prior to his arrival at Foxborough. The fact that he's been signed means the Pats have a strong interest in him, but moving Corey Dillon, Kevin Faulk or Laurence Maroney out of the rotation would tough.
Notes: Patriots cornerback Ellis Hobbs was recently pictured and interviewed in the latest issue of Boston's stuff@night magazine in a section called "bodies by Boston."