New England made two changes to the 53-man roster Wednesday, signing punter Ken Walter and releasing linebacker Rob Holmberg.
Walter, who played the last four seasons with Carolina, reportedly agreed to a one-year contract. He replaced veteran Lee Johnson, the league's all-time leader in punts and punt yardage. Johnson struggled in five games this season, but had a particularly rough outing Sunday against San Diego. His punts resulted in strong field position for the Chargers, and he had a fumble that resulted in a touchdown.
Walter is familiar with Patriots special teams coach Brad Seely, who handled the special teams post for the Panthers from 1995-98 before coming to New England. In his career Walter has averaged 40.4 yards on 291 punts. While not known for distance, he is solid with hang time, which should aid the coverage units that have struggled of late for the Patriots.
Despite nearly 300 punts, Walter has just 12 career touchbacks, and he has pinned 86 punts inside the 20-yard line. At the time of his press conference, Head Coach Bill Belichick did not yet have a punter on his roster. However, all aspects of the kicking game were going to be focal points in Wednesday's practice.
"Hopefully we will just see a better performance," Belichick said. "I don't think we want to go to the scrap heap and eliminate everything we are doing. We need to do the things we are doing better.
We are going to cut down the offensive and defensive part of practice today in order to devote more time to the kicking game. "As I told the team this morning, there is nothing more important than the kicking game. If you put the Colts on a short field, I don't care what kind of defense you are playing, you are going to have problems."
Holmberg, signed after linebacker Marty Moore was lost for the season to injury, appeared in the last two games on special teams, but did not record any statistics.
Bledsoe listed as doubtful
In a somewhat surprising move, quarterback Drew Bledsoe was upgraded from out to doubtful on the New England injury report.
Belichick was quick to point out that there only an outside chance, with the emphasis being outside, that Bledsoe would suit up as the team's emergency quarterback Sunday. Bledsoe will not play, barring unforeseen circumstance, and it is important to point out that he is only just beginning to do light exercise.
Bledsoe said he has lost about 15 pounds since suffering a sheered blood vessel after a big hit by New York Jets linebacker Mo Lewis in Week Two. He is still taking things slowly, and he could only say "as soon as possible" when asked about a timetable for his return.
"Obviously when you take three weeks of doing absolutely nothing, it takes a while to get back to where you were before," Bledsoe said. "Let's put it this way: Around half of the total blood in my body came out of me within two-and-a-half to three hours after the game. They took about a total of four liters of blood out of my body, and a lot of it they recycled and put back in. Thankfully I was in some very good hands at obviously one of the very best hospitals in the world. So the danger was not as imminent as it could have been."
Seeing him in pads is still very unlikely, but Bledsoe should be able to travel to Indianapolis with the team this weekend.
Once again the rest of New England's injury list beyond Bledsoe was pretty lengthy. The Patriots have seven players listed as questionable for Sunday, but all but one were expected to be able to at least try and practice Wednesday.
Guard Joe Andruzzi (knee) and defensive end Willie McGinest (leg) both played against San Diego. Andruzzi started and played the entire game despite being listed as out for the game as late as last Wednesday.
Linebackers Tedy Bruschi (knee) and T.J. Turner and running back J.R. Redmond (ankle) have not seen their status change from last week. Rookie nose tackle Richard Seymour (leg) and second-year safety Antwan Harris (ankle) were both injured against the Chargers.
For Seymour, the injury is different from the hamstring problem that has nagged him. The new problem is with the other leg, but he said it was not as serious as the original.
Belichick said Harris was the most serious injury of the group. He did not expect Harris to be able to do much at all.