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For kickers, time to replace the clutch

FOXBOROUGH -- Oh, they were sweating all right. And the perspiration had little to do with the temperature being in the mid-80s.

The heat is on.

It is Gramatica vs. Gostkowski; No. 7 vs. No. 3; the vet vs. the rook.

The winner (a.k.a. the guy who followed Adam Vinatieri) gets to be the placekicker for the New England Patriots this season.

``Adam did a great job out here," Martin Gramatica said yesterday after trudging off the field following the first practice of the Patriots' 2006 training camp. ``All I can focus on is what I can do for me.

``Make all my kicks and I'll be here. If I don't, then I won't. That's all I'm really worried about.

``We know that [the spotlight is on us]. It's everywhere. Adam did a great job here, so people expect [a lot]. The standard here is high in kicking. But everywhere you go, if you don't make a certain percentage, you won't be there. Like I said, I'm just focusing on myself and making my kicks."

Gramatica did so yesterday, drilling four kicks through the uprights just before the team ended the morning session. Stephen Gostkowski wasn't so perfect, misfiring badly on one short chance. There was no kicking in the afternoon practice.

So does Day 1 go to Gramatica, the eight-year veteran who last kicked in the league in 2004 (for Indianapolis).

``I think that in evaluating a team in training camp, you don't make evaluations based on one play or one practice or even one day where there are a lot of snaps," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. ``We're going to have thousands of snaps in this training camp and it will be an accumulation of consistency and performance [that decides roster spots].

``At some point in time -- a week, two weeks, three weeks into training camp or whatever those different demarcation points are -- that's when you start looking at the evaluations because you have enough plays, really, to work with and enough situations and enough different matchups to get a truer measure of where you think everybody is. I think after one play, one kick, one practice, it's way too early to say, `This guy is ahead of that guy,' or, `That guy is behind somebody else.' "

Quite likely, that guy will always be behind Vinatieri, the Patriots' all-time leading scorer, who moved to the Indianapolis Colts in March.

``He was such a great player for such a long time, so whoever comes in to be Adam Vinatieri is going to have some tough shoes to fill," Tom Brady said. ``Whoever he is, hopefully I don't leave it up to field goals this year. Hopefully, we're winning by 30. Hopefully, we're not leaving it up to 48-yard field goals. I don't care who's kicking, we wouldn't like to leave it up to that."

Punter Josh Miller, who spends most of practice with the kicking contenders, said the next kicker doesn't have to be as good as Vinatieri, simply coming close would suffice.

``It's going to be a great battle," Miller said. ``They're both pretty good. Martin's played in a Super Bowl, so he's been there and done that, and the kid [Gostkowski] has a cannon, so if we can just have him do what he did in college, he'll be fine."

If Gostkowski, a fourth-round pick from Memphis, shows up on special teams wearing a garter belt, blame Miller and the movie ``Bull Durham."

``It's like I'm Crash Davis and he's Meat," Miller explained. ``I tell him, `Just pitch . . . just kick. That's it. Just do what you got to do. Do your thing.' If you were blind and just standing out there and you use your ears to hear the sound that comes off his foot, you realize he has all the talent in the world. It has a big thud on it. It's up to him now. I don't know him well enough to say what's between the ears. I'm going to find that out."

Miller's first impression: ``[Gostkowski's] so young, he doesn't know what the hell is going on. That's the kind of guy you want to replace [Vinatieri]. He doesn't know [how difficult it could be]. And Martin realizes, `I'm not going to try to be something I'm not. I've niched out my own little life out here and it's worked out pretty good because you can't fake it for eight years.' One of those two combinations will do it. I feel pretty good about that."

Gramatica said he puts pressure on himself to make every kick because he knows the coaches are watching.

``I don't know how they're going to make their decision," he said. ``If I make most of my kicks, or as many as I can, that gives me a good chance to be on this team. If I don't, I won't. That's all I'm thinking. I don't know how they'll make the decision."

Jerome Solomon can be reached at

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