The New England Patriots open training camp on July 24. To get you ready, we will go through the roster position by position, highlighting the story lines, battles, and key players. We continue with the core special teams players.
Kicker Stephen Gostkowski and punter Ryan Allen appear as safe as can be in their spots on the team. The Patriots have brought in a "camp leg" at each position in the past, but no such move has been made this offseason. The only real competition appears to be among the long-snappers, where incumbent Danny Aiken should be looking over his shoulder as the Patriots signed Harvard tight end/long-snapper Tyler Ott as an undrafted rookie shortly after the draft ended.
Danny Aiken: Danny Aiken signed a one-year deal for the league minimum to return to the team this offseason. He has been the Patriots' long-snapper for three years, but has faced competition for the past two years. He has been mostly solid in his role, but had a high snap go over Allen's head in the playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts.
Ryan Allen: After beating out former Patriots punter Zoltan Mesko last year, Ryan Allen is locked into his roster spot without any competition at the moment. Allen's net average of 39.9 yards per punt ranked 17th in the NFL, but he had 29 punts downed inside the opponent's 20-yard line, the 10th-highest total in the NFL.
Stephen Gostkowski: After falling off for a couple years, Stephen Gostkowski had a career year in 2013. He led the NFL in both field goal attempts (41) and field goals made (38), and his 92.7 conversion percentage was the sixth-best in the NFL. He also hit a career-long of 54 yards in 2013 against the New Orleans Saints.
Tyler Ott: Tyler Ott is officially listed as a tight end, but he was not a big part of the offense with 15 receptions for 188 yards and four touchdowns on the season. He earned the majority of his playing time as Harvard's long snapper and projects to that role in the NFL. Ott is a near mirror image of Aiken at 6-foot-3 and 252 pounds.
K. Stephen Gostkowski
P. Ryan Allen
LS. Tyler Ott
If Ott can give the Patriots anything at tight end, he will already be more versatile than Aiken, who has never played a snap on offense. Ott is also signed for the next three years, and is cheaper than Aiken this year ($725,000 cap hit for Aiken, $420,000 for Ott) while Aiken is entering a contract year.