Patriots specialists quick hit

Final entry in a 12-part series of positional reviews of the 2009 Patriots season:

Specialists: Stephen Gostkowski (kicker), Chris Hanson (punter/holder), Jake Ingram (long snapper)

Stat check: In the regular season, Gostkowski was 26 of 31 on field-goal attempts, 47 of 47 on point-after attempts, and tied for sixth in the NFL with 21 touchbacks. In 56 punts, Hanson had a 39.7 average and 34.1 net, which ranked 32nd in the NFL but also came in Northeast conditions.

First instinct: While Hanson is a directional punter who is known more for hang time than an ultra-powerful leg -- which is Bill Belichick's preference -- it wouldn’t be surprising if a change is made at the position after three seasons.

Storyline not to be overlooked: Ingram stepping into the large cleats of Lonie Paxton. For nine years, the Patriots had few worries at long snapper because of the steady presence of Paxton. When Paxton departed in free agency, the Patriots identified Ingram as the best prospect in the draft and selected him in the sixth round (198th overall). Ingram, who made the jump from the University of Hawaii to often-frigid Foxborough, didn’t have a botched snap all season in 134 attempts (extra points, field goals, punts).

Future: Hanson is scheduled for free agency. In a season without a salary cap, which appears likely, Gostkowski would be a restricted free agent and the Patriots project to tender him at the highest level to retain him. Ingram is signed through 2012.

Final thought: It seems like only yesterday that the Patriots were rolling the dice by not assigning the franchise tag to Adam Vinatieri in 2006, then drafting Gostkowski. Four years later, Gostkowski has proven to be a capable replacement.



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