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Positional profile: wide receivers

In biology, symbiosis refers to the mutually beneficial association of two different organisms. It is derived from the Greek words syn (meaning "together") and bios ("life").

You can find examples in football. Running backs, for instance, look for their linemen to open holes. And kickers rely on their holders for a perfect placement. Even cornerbacks expect their safeties to lend a hand in deep-ball coverage.

The wide receiver-quarterback relationship—although, at times, an inexact science—is perhaps more symbiotic than any other on the field.

Especially in today's NFL, where timing offenses are not only the norm, but also more complex than ever, the successful execution of a forward pass requires repetition. It demands familiarity. It begs for trust.

All of which were in short supply at the start of last season. Tom Brady no longer had fellow Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch. Sure-handed David Givens took his free-agent money and ran to Tennessee. That left old reliable, Troy Brown, as the most recognizable face in the wide receiver corps.

In mid-March came free agent Reche Caldwell. April, the team drafted Chad Jackson. Doug Gabriel then arrived in September via trade and was released shortly thereafter. In October, Jabar Gaffney showed up. To their credit, the 2006 group did its job, helping the team come within a minute of the franchise's fourth Super Bowl appearance this decade.

That extraordinary effort notwithstanding, the wide receiver position, as with every other, can always improve. So far this offseason, the Patriots have made that a priority. With Tuesday's re-signing of Bam Childress, New England now has nine receivers under contract (excluding Brown, whose football future remains unresolved).

New to the system are the young and promising trio of Donté Stallworth, Kelley Washington, and Wes Welker. At 26 and entering his sixth NFL season, Stallworth has shown flashes of brilliance, but injuries have plagued him in the pros. Washington, 27, has the potential to blossom in New England's offense, while the Pats brass thought enough of the multi-talented Welker to trade with a division rival for the 25-year-old.

Caldwell, Gaffney, and Jackson return with a season in New England under their belts, although Jackson is battling back from a severe knee injury suffered in the AFC Championship Game. It's unclear how soon he'll be able to suit up again. Childress and Kelvin Kight, both of whom saw increasing playing time toward the end of '06, rejoin on-again-off-again practice squad member Jonathan Smith.

New England may not be finished importing wide receivers, as free agency continues (though the list is dwindling). Plus, New England has picks a-plenty in next month's NFL Draft. Brown's return would certainly add depth to the position.

Even if no other moves are made at wideout, this year's group may have an advantage over last year's. The returning members have a year of experience with Brady in offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels' system. Plus, all three new arrivals are on board earlier than last year's newcomers.

With the Patriots offseason program having begun this week, that extra face time with Brady can only help the receivers and their QB build chemistry.

Or, if you prefer, biology.

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