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Pope is hoping to be anointed

Journeyman punter giving Walter a push

FOXBOROUGH -- To most fans the punter is about as important as who's wearing the mascot outfit, but to the Patriots' coaching staff it's a serious matter. Which is why incumbent punter Ken Walter is getting some competition this preseason from veteran Daniel Pope. It's a competition that might last right up until the end of preseason.

"I think I'm punting well enough to make an impression," said Pope. "I've been in the league for two years and they know I've been there. I had a really good start to the camp. I had a little slump, but I got over that and now I'm hitting it a little better. You have to get over that initial soreness in camp even though you've kicked all summer. In camp, you're trying to hit it a little bit harder."

Pope, 28, said in his estimation both punters have kicked well. Both have had good and bad days. Walter kicked for a 38.9-yard average and a 33.3 net average, the lowest in the AFC last season.

"He and I are both veterans," said Pope. "You go out there and you kick your best ball. He kicks his and you root for each other. I would never root for him to hit a bad punt. Hopefully he does the same for me. We do our job and it's up to the organization to see who they choose to keep around."

Pope, who averaged 43.5 yards per punt at Alabama, has been with Detroit, Cincinnati, Kansas City, the Jets, and Chicago. He has the distinction of holding the team season record for most punts in a season for the 2000 Bengals (94) and the 1999 Chiefs (101). Pope, who makes his home in Alpharetta, Ga., said when he worked out in April for the Patriots and then worked out for five other teams, the reason he was sold on coming to New England was a couple of magic words.

"The one catch phrase that sold me is they told me I was going to get an equal chance to get a job. The best guy is going to get the job," he said.

Pope has had three workouts with the Patriots. The first came in 2000, and again last season, after the team released Lee Johnson, he competed and lost out to Walter.

Another aspect of the competition that might favor Walter is his familiarity in holding for Adam Vinatieri. You never want to disrupt a kicker considered one of the best in the game.

"Any time you put a holder and a kicker together they know their tendencies," said Pope. "I've held in the league. I'm a pretty good holder and Adam and I kick well together. We worked in camp -- he knows me and I know him. It's not an issue."

Pope calls New England "one of the three toughest places" to kick. Chicago and Green Bay also make his list. The reason stems from high, swirling winds and other weather elements.

"Big thing is net average here," said Pope. "It's hard to get a high gross average because of the wind. The wind can blow one way and then you're warming up and it can blow in a completely different direction. The key is to be an effective punter and not necessarily the prettiest punter."

Hot house

The Patriots had a lengthy practice for their finale of the week in yesterday's heat. The Patriots play exhibition game No. 2 tomorrow night in Washington. A few veterans seemed to have the day off, including Troy Brown, Ted Johnson, Christian Fauria, and Joe Andruzzi. "It's good to see some more guys out here. I think this is the closest we've been to full strength, not that we're full strength, but we are closer," said coach Bill Belichick. "We expect Washington to play a lot better than they played against Carolina last week [20-0 loss]. I am sure they will. We'll just need to be ready for that." . . . The coach said Tom Brady would play more this week than his one-quarter outing against the Giants . . . The coach said the mission against Washington is to "establish [our] level of play at this point and time and try to build on it. I think that's important for every player and it's important for each group; the offensive group, the defensive group, the kickoff coverage, the punt return team. It's important for all of us to establish our level and then try to move it to higher ground in each game." . . . Right tackle Tom Ashworth and right guard Russ Hochstein continued to get action with the first team . . . Running back J.R. Redmond took more reps in practice and should be able to play tomorrow night . . . Rookie receiver Bethel Johnson made a couple of nice catches; none better than an extended catch David Givens made on the fly . . . Brady did some work on his own, but his understudies -- Damon Huard, Rohan Davey, and Kliff Kingsbury -- took most of the reps. Davey could be first off the bench tomorrow night . . . Otis Smith, still recovering from a torn pectoral muscle, did not practice . . . The Patriots go through a walk-through practice at Gillette today and then depart for Washington.

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