Patriots keeping WR options open

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Last week, New England Patriots receivers coach Chad O'Shea touted what he had seen on the practice field in training camp.

"Obviously, we have a very competitive situation at the receiver position," he said. "From a competitive standpoint, we are very happy with the situation."

Three days later, head coach Bill Belichick echoed those thoughts.

"We've got good depth there," he said. "We've got 11 guys working. I think they're practicing hard. I think they've responded well to the practices and what we're going, and I see that group improving. I think it's a very competitive group."

Doesn't exactly sound like a team in need of a receiver, right?

The Patriots have been working with Chad Ochocinco, Wes Welker and Deion Branch as their top trio in practice. Third-year players Brandon Tate and Julian Edelman, along with second-year man Taylor Price -- who starred in the preseason opener with five catches for 105 yards and a sensational touchdown -- represent the next layer of depth.

Now comes news that the Patriots are scheduled to work out veteran T.J. Houshmandzadeh on Monday. A recognizable name like Houshmandzadeh naturally will generate more than just passing interest, although it's hard to see where he'd fit at this point as he's coming off a disappointing 30-catch season with the Baltimore Ravens.

This looks like a case in which the Patriots are doing their due diligence, updating their emergency list in the event there is an unexpected need. One reason to think along those lines is tied to something else Belichick said when speaking about his receiver competition last week.

"It'll be interesting to see how things go when you take into account the special teams responsibilities and competition overall as a receiving group," Belichick stated.

At this stage in his career, the 33-year-old Houshmandzadeh doesn't offer much on special teams, making it less likely the team would carve out a roster spot unless they had front-line plans for him.

So while there might be a temptation to jump to conclusions, the best outlook when it comes to workouts like Houshmandzadeh's is that they are part of standard operating procedure. This is the time of year when the Patriots bring in free agents at different positions, their hard-working pro personnel staff led by Jason Licht and Bob Quinn making sure no options are overlooked.

Along those lines, safety Darren Sharper also is scheduled to visit Monday, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. Safety Renaldo Hill also is expected in for a workout, the Sports XChange reported.

As for the receiving corps, the expectation is that Ochocinco, Welker and Branch will see their first action Thursday night against the Buccaneers after they were held out in the preseason opener. But the depth behind them has been thinned in recent days.

Edelman, the top backup to Welker, has been held out of practice after he returned two kickoffs and played eight offensive snaps in the preseason opener. It doesn't appear to be anything serious, though.

Price, the 2010 third-round pick, also has been held out of practices after his five-catch, 105-yard performance. Like Edelman, it is not believed to be anything serious.

And Tate, the team's No. 3 receiver and top kickoff returner in 2010, has been sidelined for weeks.

That's why special teamer Matthew Slater, journeyman Darnell Jenkins, first-year players Tyree Barnes and Buddy Farnham, and rookie free agent Jeremy Ross have been showing up more in practice the past two days. They are getting extended second-unit repetitions that would normally be going to Edelman, Price and Tate.

Given the depleted depth, and the possibility of a front-line receiver going down in the future, Houshmandzadeh could represent a solid fallback option in an emergency.
The Patriots will take a closer look Monday, doing their due diligence.

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.