It's no longer important that the Patriots lost Adam Vinatieri.
The bigger story is who will replace the leading scorer in franchise history.
Patriots fans will hear a lot of names between now and training camp. Perhaps Paul Edinger, or Todd Peterson should the team go the veteran route. Perhaps Doug Brien, another veteran, who was out of football last season. Another name to watch is Jose Cortez, who was cut by the Cowboys last season and is currently on the Colts' roster.
New England could draft a kicker, and there are some good ones, including Stephen Gostkowski from Memphis, Jonathan Scifres from Southwest Missouri State, and Ohio State's Josh Huston. And there are also six kickers who performed in NFL Europe, the most impressive and likely the most sought-after will be former Penn State kickoff man Dave Kimball.
Could he be the next Vinatieri?
''I would never want to compare myself to Adam or anyone else," said Kimball yesterday from Frankfurt, where he was 2 for 3 on field goals, including a 49-yarder, in his first game for the Galaxy last week. ''I know Adam and [Philadelphia's] David Akers both came from this league. If it gives me that type of exposure, that would be great. That's what I'm here for -- to improve and show what I'm capable of doing."
Kimball, 24, was a seventh-round pick of the Colts in 2004. He was released and signed with the Giants, who kept him in their camp last season. He's currently on the Raiders' roster, but with Sebastian Janikowski firmly entrenched in the No. 1 job, it's unlikely Kimball would stick in Oakland unless he lands on the practice squad. The Patriots could trade for him, wait until he's released, or sign him off the Raiders' practice squad. The Packers are reportedly interested in Kimball even after they agreed to terms with former Cowboys kicker Billy Cundiff.
If nothing else, Kimball could be a very good kickoff man, which some teams now carry in addition to the field goal specialists. But Kimball is trying to shed the image of big-leg kicker who lacks accuracy.
In four years at Penn State, Kimball attempted only three field goals, making two of them in one game. The field goal he missed was a 60-yard attempt at the end of a game. The primary field goal kicker at Penn State then was Robbie Gould, who spent training camp with the Patriots last summer and became the Bears' starting kicker.
So in his life after State College, Pa., which is also his hometown and where he was raised by parents who were Marines, he's worked with a variety of coaches on improving his accuracy.
''As a kickoff guy my focus was to kick it deep and accuracy wasn't that big of a factor in the job I performed," Kimball said. ''Making the transition now from college to pros, every time you get called on you've got to be ready to make the big kick. This is a dream of mine to make it as an NFL kicker. I've seen a few guys go up to the NFL and I know that I can be very competitive with them. I think you've got to get that chance first and that's what I'm trying to achieve here right now."
Kimball had 132 touchbacks in his four-year college career, 59 of them as a junior.
He has been a sponge ever since, gaining knowledge from Mike Vanderjagt in Colts camp and Jay Feely in Giants camp. He's also worked with the same kicking coach who helped Vinatieri early on -- Doug Blevins -- who spent some years as the Dolphins' kicking coach. He also watches a lot of film, especially on Vinatieri.
It's one thing to boot it as far as you can. That part is easy for Kimball. The precision of making a key field goal in a big situation; of winning a game in the last second; or kicking in bad weather, is where Kimball needs to gain experience.
Vinatieri made tapes and sent them to NFL teams hoping for a tryout. Luckily, Mike Sweatman, then the Patriots' special teams coach under Bill Parcells and now the Giants' special teams coach, saw the tape. He then followed Vinatieri through Europe. The Patriots decided to go with the rookie Vinatieri over veteran Matt Bahr. Vinatieri scored 120 points his first year and never looked back.
It's ironic, too, that Kimball spent a lot of time working with Sweatman in Giants camp. He said he also learned many pointers from Bahr's brother, Chris, who also lives in State College.
''I feel I have the ability," said Kimball. ''That's why I'm sticking with it and trying to fulfill my dream. I've tried to absorb as much knowledge from guys who have done it and from watching film. I'm not trying to be somebody else, but I can pick up things that will help me with my style. There comes a point where you have to go out there and do it. But I think you can never get enough advice. I've been working out here with Morten Andersen, who has had a long and great career. A guy like that knows so much about kicking in big games in the NFL. I just want to be a guy who can kick off, which right now is my strength, and also be able to kick field goals and be reliable doing it. There's no room for error here. That's what NFL teams are looking for. And that's what I'm trying to improve on."
The opportunity is very real for Kimball and at least two others kickers in NFL Europe -- Tyler Jones of the Redskins and Hamburg Sea Devils, and Ola Kimrin, 34, who has bounced around and once made a 65-yard field goal for the Broncos in a 2002 exhibition game.
But because of his age, strong leg ,and raw ability, Kimball has a chance to be somebody.
The next Adam Vinatieri would be nice.
The Patriots made it official yesterday, announcing the signings of veterans Troy Brown and Stephen Neal.
Brown, who has spent his entire 14-year career with New England, is second on the franchise's all-time list with 514 receptions. He's also provided secondary depth the last two seasons.
Neal, a 6-foot-4-inch, 305-pounder, was originally signed as an undrafted free agent in 2001 and has started the last 30 games at right guard.
Terms of the deals were not released.