FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- With the NFL moving the kickoff up five yards this season, from the 30 to the 35, the value of explosive kickoff returners is affected.
No player on the Patriots' roster is impacted more than Brandon Tate.
The team's No. 3 pure receiver last year (24 receptions) -- who figures to be knocked down the depth chart this year with the addition of Chad Ochocinco -- his primary value to the club comes on returns. Tate had a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the 2010 season-opener against the Bengals, and a 103-yarder for a touchdown against the Dolphins three weeks later.
Could Tate's roster spot be in jeopardy because of the new rule?
That exact question wasn't asked to coach Bill Belichick on Saturday, although the generalities of the new kickoff rule were.
"I don't think there is any doubt that league-wide there will be more touchbacks this year," Belichick said. "Statistically, that's pretty well documented. We had our [league] meetings in March and the proponents of the rule, that's what they wanted, to see more touchbacks and less kickoff returns.
"I think when you look at the numbers on touchbacks, you see a much higher number in the early part of the season, in September and October relative to the latter months of the year, particularly on teams that have outdoor stadiums. It will be interesting to see how that goes and if those numbers stay in place over the course of the year, and with the roster and having a 46th player (instead of 45), there may be teams that have kickoff guys, [carrying] an extra specialist in that area."
The Patriots have Ochocinco, Wes Welker and Deion Branch atop the receiver depth chart, and second-year players Julian Edelman (top punt returner) and Taylor Price (5 catches, 105 yards, TD in preseason opener) appear to have positioned themselves for spots behind them.
Where does that leave Tate, the 2009 third-round pick?
The Patriots could manage the roster to keep a sixth receiver, and even a seventh if special teams ace Matthew Slater is counted. A strong case could be made to do so, especially considering Welker and Branch are in the last year of their contracts.
But to keep six or seven, which is high, the team would have to go lighter in another area.