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The Patriots will return their core group of specialists in 2014. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski had a career year in 2013, posting career high’s in points, field goals made, field goal percentage, and he was a very impressive 5 for 6 from 50+ yards. Gostkowski has clearly emerged into one of the league’s best kickers, and has shown an ability to come through in the clutch as well.
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The Patriots replaced punter Zoltan Mestko with rookie Ryan Allen in 2013. Allen was near the league-average in most punting metrics during his first season. He did allow a league-high 12 touchbacks, and that’s an area he must improve upon in 2014.
Matthew Slater will return to captain the special teams units after a third consecutive pro-bowl season in 2013. After re-watching some games from last season, it’s remarkable at how often Slater finds himself around the ball-carrier on kickoffs and punts.
The Patriots special teams will be relatively the same going into the new season. The team has brought in Harvard LS Tyler Ott to challenge incumbent Danny Aiken in pre-season, but all expectations are that Aiken will retain the job.
Rookie running back James White looks like a candidate to win the kick returning job. Josh Boyce has split most of the reps with White thus far in camp, and he looked decent returning kicks in 2013. Undrafted rookie running back Roy Finch looks like a darkhorse candidate to win the kick returning job, but he’ll have to make the roster over Brandon Bolden to do so.
2014 should be another big season for Gostkowski. A more efficient red-zone offense will likely cut-down on his number of attempts, which was a career-high 41 in 2013. There is no reason to expect a dip in efficiency from Gostkowski, however.
Ryan Allen should improve in his sophomore season. As stated earlier, he must cut-down on his touchback numbers, but he did a good job in net-punting in his rookie season.
Barring an injury, Matthew Slater looks like he’ll return to all-pro form this season. He’s emerged as one of the leaders of the team, and is a prototypical Bill Belichick player. He’ll lead another top coverage unit.
One area where the Patriots could really improve is the return game. The Patriots were 11th in the league in both kick and punt return average in 2013, and had zero touchdowns. It doesn’t look like the Patriots have an explosive returner on their roster. Roy Finch could potentially be one if he makes the squad, but for now it looks like the they’ll just have to focus on maintaining their existing consistency in the return game.
Julian Edelman looks like he will once again return punts in 2014. He’s currently listed atop the Patriot’s depth chart, with fellow receiver Danny Amendola behind him.
The Patriots special teams units have consistently been solid throughout the Belichick-era, and 2014 should be no different.
Tags: 2014 Patriots Preview, Danny Aiken, Danny Amendola, james white, Josh Boyce, Julian Edelman, Matthew Slater, New England Patriots, Roy Finch, Ryan Allen, Special Teams, Stephen Gostkowski, Training Camp