The Patriots had been well served by LS Lonie Paxton, who snapped on every punt, extra point and field goal attempt in the 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 seasons. In 2003 he missed the last three games of the season plus the playoffs when he tore his right ACL, and Russ Hochstein had to fill in. When Paxton agreed to a $5.3 million deal with the Broncos last February, the Patriots picked up veteran Nathan Hodel from Arizona to replace him.
Belichick also addressed the long snapper position in this year's Draft, picking Jake Ingram from Hawaii in the 6th round. Here is what his Patriots.com player bio has to say:
A former defensive end switched to long snapper during the 2005 season, head coach June Jones believed Ingram was too valuable to be a reserve on defense. Ingram is clearly the top prospect in the country at the vital, if underappreciated, position. He's not a big bruiser who could play center in a pinch but his accuracy and velocity will be valued by teams looking for a reliable snapper.
Why he will succeed:
- Excellent velocity on punt snaps, with ball consistently reaching punter in less than 0.7 seconds.
- No wasted motion in snap.
- Very good accuracy, punter rarely has to work to secure the snap.
- Works hard to maintain his lane on punt coverage.
- Decent athleticism, outstanding balance.
- Not fazed by pressure.
- Strong work ethic, team leader.
Why he might fail:
- Not especially quick getting downfield on punts and didn't make many coverage tackles.
- Lacks great size although there are snappers his size in the NFL.
- Inconsistent accuracy on placement snaps, puts them high at times.
- Needs to get stronger, not real fast.
Results? The Patriots now have two long snappers, one a proven 8-year veteran with the Cardinals and the other a newbie with positive reports out of Hawaii. Lonie Paxton was picked up as an undrafted rookie free agent and the Patriots haven't had to think about that position in years. It's easy to see Belichick repeating that plan with his pick of Ingram, while relying on the immediate veteran services of Hodel.
As it stands, Stephen Gostkowski remains the uncontested starting kicker. Until someone else is signed, I take it as a sign that Gostkowski will be offered a new contract before his ends in 2010. Chris Hanson appears to be the starting punter, with the only competition coming from Tom Malone, who was signed to the practice squad last season.
Not too many changes. We needed a long snapper and got one. What remains to be seen is who the kickoff return man will be, as Matthew Slater's job performance was less than stellar in '08.