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Kaczur is a big surprise

Rookie tackle gets on-the-job training

FOXBOROUGH -- If there were an angel on Nick Kaczur's massive shoulders, advising him through the events that have led to him becoming an offensive lineman with the New England Patriots, it could very well have sounded like Gomer Pyle.

Surprise. Surprise. Surprise.

Kaczur, a Canadian who began his athletic career as ''just a big defenseman" in junior hockey but gave up that sport because it was too expensive, one day found himself at a football camp where he was told a scholarship to an American university could be had.


Kaczur, 26, spent two years as a construction worker before enrolling at Toledo in 2001. He was named the starter at left tackle before he picked up his luggage at baggage claim, was an all-conference pick by the end of his freshman season, and had become the school's first-ever four-time all-league choice by the time he left with a degree in resource management.


The next thing you knew, Kaczur went from being an unknown on the draft experts' charts to possibly being a mid-round draft pick, to being selected by the defending Super Bowl champions with the next-to-last pick of the third round.


Once he became a Patriot, all Kaczur had on his mind was finding a way to stick around.

''I just wanted to make the team," he said. ''That was my goal. I didn't want to get too carried away on things."

He didn't want to think ahead toward seeing meaningful action in a game, but the surprises kept coming.

Kaczur impressed enough early in training camp that coach Bill Belichick mentioned him, along with veterans Tom Ashworth and Brandon Gorin, as starting candidates at right tackle. When Matt Light was forced to sit out a preseason game at Green Bay because of an injury, Kaczur was inserted into the starting lineup.

And the surprises keep coming.

In the Patriots' season opener against Oakland, Kaczur was in at right tackle for Ashworth by the third possession, with the Patriots running the ball in his direction on his first play. He remained in the lineup on the fourth possession.

Before he could settle into his first regular-season NFL game, he was sent in at left tackle for Light, though he spent precious little time there during training camp. He did not anticipate a tap on the shoulder telling him to take to the left side, but having played there his entire college career, he wasn't uncomfortable.

''It was really exciting, unexpected, but great," Kaczur said. ''I had no idea at all. Wherever they put me, that's where I play."

The Patriots don't grade their linemen publicly, but Kaczur handled himself well, as New England did not allow a sack over Tom Brady's 38 pass attempts.

His only noticeable mistake came in the third quarter, when he was beaten by the Raiders' Bobby Hamilton on fourth and 1. Hamilton, a former Patriot, made the stop on Corey Dillon at the Oakland 31 to give the Raiders the ball on downs.

On the plus side, the Patriots avoided ''runaway rushers," as Belichick refers to major line breakdowns, when Kaczur was in the game.

''I think it went pretty well," Kaczur said. ''It was a good learning experience for me, to get my feet wet and some playing time under my belt. . . . The only way to do that is reps."

That shouldn't be a problem. Gorin continues to miss portions of practice with a thigh injury, and could find himself behind Kaczur on the depth chart when he is fully recovered.

''I think that Nick has done enough in his opportunities this year in preseason and in training camp to earn some playing time," Belichick said. ''Whether that continues or doesn't continue, I don't know. That will be determined by the way he plays, the way other people play, and again, that just builds a little bit of our versatility."

Against the Raiders, New England repeated its first-half rotation pattern after the intermission, with Kaczur subbing at right tackle on the third and fourth possessions, then moving to the left side, next to fellow rookie Logan Mankins.

''Early in the year, [you learn] where you can rotate people and when you can rotate people," Belichick said. ''Nobody is used to playing a full game and they are certainly not used to playing it at the intensity level relative to what the preseason games were.

''When you get into where we're going to be playing Sunday afternoon in Carolina, which my guess is it's going to be hot, the heat and humidity and all of that will be more of a factor than even it was [Thursday] night and all of the other night games that we had in preseason."

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