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Pats have fresh start on end game

09.14.09 at 11:03 am ET
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FOXBOROUGH – The Patriots passing game could be entering a new dimension.

And 29-year-old tight end Chris Baker could be the key. The eight-year NFL veteran showed in the preseason that he can catch the ball and provide a legitimate threat off the line of scrimmage. And Baker is someone head coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots know very well since he spent his first seven years with the New York Jets.

But the Patriots had far more in mind than just taking someone away from their competition in the AFC East when they signed him as a free agent on March 2.

“Chris has been a very versatile guy for us,” Belichick said. “I’€™ve really been impressed with really all aspects of Chris’€™s game since he came here. He’€™s a smart kid. He works hard. He’€™s tough. He’€™s got good position versatility; he can play on the line, go in motion.”

“I’m very excited to get the season kicked off and wherever that leads we’re all looking forward to it,” added Baker, who could have just as easily been talking about his own future with his brand new team.

After breaking his leg in 2005, Baker rebounded for seasons of 31 and 41 catches before falling off to 21 last season.

The Patriots saw just how good he could be in Tom Brady’s first game back in the preseason at Philadelphia. Baker caught three passes from Brady for 22 yards, but two of them were for touchdowns.

“We saw in the Philadelphia game that he’€™s got good receiving ability, especially in tight situations like the red area and third down,” Belichick said. “He can pass protect. He can run block. He can do a lot of different things for us. He can really fill a lot of roles and play a lot of different spots or change his assignment, what we’€™re asking him to do in different formations and things like that.”

It will be very interesting to see how the Patriots use Baker with Ben Watson still on the roster. Watson’s numbers have dropped off in each of the last two seasons since he caught a career-high 49 balls in 2006. He caught 26 in 2007 and just 22 last season with Matt Cassel running the offense.

Baker’s presence also means the Patriots could show some two-tight end formations, especially in the red area since they have Baker and Watson.

“That gives you a lot of versatility,” the coach added. “I think he’€™s really given us a good dimension at that position that is very helpful for our offense because one of the things about our offense is that we do some different things anyway. So to have a versatile player, particularly at that position, at the tight end position, just makes things flow a little bit smoother.”

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