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Positional profile: placekickers/punters

An analysis of the Patriots current roster situation at the kicking and punting positions.

The kicking shoe is on the other foot.

Last year at this time, Adam Vinatieri's departure to Indianapolis created intrigue at the Patriots placekicking position for the first time in a decade. Rookie draft pick Stephen Gostkowski eventually beat out veteran Martin Gramatica, a former Pro Bowler in Tampa, in the highly scrutinized battle to replace the likely Hall-of-Famer Vinatieri.

Josh Miller, meanwhile, was the only punter in New England's camp, and deservedly so. The strong-legged Miller has been a sure thing throughout his NFL career, his booming, spiraling punts consistently putting him among the League's leaders.

Today, Gostkowski's job is as secure as a second-year kicker's can be. If another kicker signs, it would likely be only to give Gostkowski's leg some rest during training camp.

Miller's job, however, is now under the microscope, and ironically, his leg's not the reason why.

Last season, Miller suffered a shoulder injury, which didn't appear to hinder his performance initially. However, as insurance, the Patriots signed rookie Danny Baugher to their practice squad in October. Miller's nagging injury apparently became so severe that a month later, he was placed on injured reserve, ending his season.

But Baugher stayed on the practice squad while New England signed former Patriot Ken Walter to take Miller's place. Then Walter went on IR a few weeks later after hurting a knee.

That same day, another rookie, USC's Tom Malone, joined New England's practice squad, only to see the team bring in veteran Todd Sauerbrun two days later. The 34-year-old was available because at the start of the season, his former team, the Denver Broncos, released him because of off-the-field issues.

Sauerbrun punted for the Pats for the remainder of the 2006 regular season and into the playoffs -- so well, in fact, that Denver now wants him back. Last week, the Broncos agreed to terms with Sauerbrun on a one-year deal. New England must decide this week if it wants to match Denver's offer.

Sauerbrun, who says he has no ill feelings toward New England, just wants to return to the Mile High City.

"My heart is in Denver," he told the Denver Post last week. "I felt so at home when I was (there)…I want to retire a Bronco."

So, at this point, very little is certain. Miller, who'll turn 37 in July, recently received a $100,000 roster bonus, an indication that he'll likely return to compete for his job. Against whom he'll compete remains to be seen.

We'll know very soon whether or not the Patriots will let Sauerbrun go back to Denver. Baugher and Malone are currently playing in NFL Europa; either or both could be in the Pats plans for training camp. And, for what it's worth, according to published reports, Patriots scouts interviewed a Draft-eligible punter, Baylor's Daniel Sepulveda, this past weekend.

Seems we'll just have to wait for the other shoe to drop.

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