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For Jabar Gaffney, nothing has changed 07.26.12 at 6:59 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The pass from Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was artfully thrown down the near sideline. As it hung in the air, the crowd — all 12,163 of them, an attendance record for training camp — realized they had a great chance to see the first highlight-reel play of the new season.

The pass, which traveled roughly 50 yards, hit Jabar Gaffney in full stride, and the receiver cruised into the end zone. It wasn’€™t more than two hours into the first full training camp practice of the year, but it was clear that the old rhythm between Brady and Gaffney — one that had produced 85 receptions for 1,059 yards from 2006 through 2008 — is still there.

There were some rough patches on the afternoon, including an early drop, but Brady and Gaffney spent most of the day making New England’€™s defensive backs look foolish. Ultimately, Thursday marked a great start to Gaffney’€™s second act with the Patriots.

‘€œIt still feels the same,’€ Gaffney said after practice when asked if it felt like he never left. ‘€œWe get great crowd support out here and seeing the faces everywhere, it feels good.’€

Gaffney was in New England from 2006 through 2008 before spending some time in Denver and Washington. Despite the fact that he caught a career-best 68 passes last season with the Redskins, Washington cut him, looking to go in another direction. As far as the Patriots were concerned, it was a no-brainer that they bring him back, and Gaffney didn’€™t think twice when he was asked if he wanted to return.

After spending last year catching passes from Rex Grossman, it also helps that he has Brady working as his quarterback.

‘€œYeah, he’€™s still the same: full of energy, loves to compete, wants to win on every play,’€ Gaffney said of the quarterback. ‘€œThat helps us out, when you see a quarterback like that who wants to win every play in practice.’€

Gaffney said the relationship — one based on unspoken communication — between he and Brady is the key to success for a wide receiver, especially in the New England offense.

‘€œIt’€™s real important. It’€™s real important,’€ said the 31-year-old Gaffney. ‘€œYou have to be able to be on the same page with your quarterback and the quarterback has to be on the same page as his wide receiver. See things the same. That’€™s how plays get made on the field.’€

And like Brandon Lloyd, Gaffney can rely on his previous relationship with Josh McDaniels, who worked as the Patriots’€™ offensive coordinator before leaving for a head-coaching job with the Broncos and a position as offensive coordinator in with the Rams. (Gaffney and Lloyd were with McDaniels in Denver, and Lloyd also spent time with McDaniels in St. Louis.)

‘€œJosh, he’€™s a great coach. He’€™s a great coach. And he’€™s a guy that all the players love to play for. He gets us coached up and brings it out here onto the field and coaches us up and puts us in position,’€ Gaffney said. ‘€œIn my opinion, he’€™s one of the best offensive coordinators out there — and he’€™s a good person.’€

Gaffney and Lloyd are now part of an imposing passing game that includes Wes Welker and young tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. It’€™s caused some to wonder if the Patriots’€™ current offense can match the stats put up by the 2007 team, a squad that routinely piled up 30 and 40 points a game on the way to a 16-0 regular-season record.

‘€œWe have a lot of talent. We have a lot of talent,’€ he said. ‘€œWe have a lot of work to do. If we can hone in on the stuff that we need to and clean up some stuff, we’€™ll [have] ourselves in a great [situation] this year.’€

Read More: 2012 Training Camp, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Lloyd, jabar gaffney
Countdown to Patriots Camp: Wide receiver 07.24.12 at 8:46 pm ET
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In the days leading up to the start of Patriots training camp, we’€™ll take a quick look at how each position shakes out. We’€™ve looked at quarterback, tight end and running back. Now, it’€™s the wide receivers:

Roster (2011 stats): Brandon Lloyd (70 catches, 966 yards, five touchdowns with Denver and St. Louis), Wes Welker (122 catches, 1,569 yards, nine touchdowns), Deion Branch (51 catches, 702 yards, five touchdowns), Jabar Gaffney (68 catches, 947 yards, five touchdowns with Washington), Donte Stallworth (22 catches, 309 yards, two touchdowns with Washington), Julian Edelman (four catches, 34 yards), Matthew Slater (one catch, 46 yards), Jeremy Ebert, Britt Davis, Jesse Holley (seven catches, 169 yards for Dallas).

THREE THINGS WE KNOW

Brandon Lloyd has the most unique skill set of any wide receiver that Tom Brady has ever worked with. We covered this back in the spring, but it bears repeating — Lloyd’€™s ability to work on both intermediate and deep routes, as well as his ability to compete for jump balls, make him a completely different receiver than anyone Brady has worked with. After getting the chance to throw to Lloyd on a regular basis in the spring, Brady bottom-lined it: ‘€œWe haven’€™t had anyone quite like him,’€ the quarterback said of Lloyd, who followed former offensive coordinator and head coach Josh McDaniels back to New England. (For more on their relationship and Lloyd’s potential impact, click HERE.)

Deion Branch doesn’€™t have the wheels that he used to, but his smarts, knowledge of the system and great working relationship with the quarterback should be enough to keep him in Foxboro for another year. The 33-year-old, who probably played more than he should have last season because of Chad Ochocinco‘€™s inadequacies, will still have a role in this passing game. And while shouldn’€™t have the same sort of production he had last year, there will be at least three occasions in 2012 where he comes up with a big play based solely on his background with Brady.

The acclimation process between Tom Brady and the new receivers should be a little easier than it was for No. 85 last season. You figure that with Gaffney and Stallworth already having spent time in the New England offense, the getting-to-know-you timetable should be minimal. As for Lloyd, he was asked this spring if he believes the Patriots system would be a difficult one to pick up. He responded with a quick, one-word answer: ‘€œNo.’€ OK then.

THREE QUESTIONS

Can Wes Welker ignore the noise? No Patriots’€™ player has had a more eventful six-month stretch than Welker. He had 122 catches last year, but ended the 2011 season glassy-eyed and teary after failing to come up with a Brady pass that would have likely closed out the Giants in the Super Bowl. Since that game, he’€™s been hit with the franchise tag, signed his tender, gone back and forth with the franchise about his contract, gotten married, endorsed adult diapers and revealed the most remarkable story involving Larry Izzo you will ever hear. He starts the 2012 season under the microscope — without a long-term deal, there will be speculation that he’€™s starting his final year in New England. However, Welker’€™s track record indicates that he should be able to block out the distractions and focus on the task at hand. Provided he stays healthy, look for another 100-plus catch season from the slot machine.

How many wide receivers can one team carry? Right now, it looks like six or seven, depending on what they want to do with Donte Stallworth: Lloyd, Welker, Gaffney, Edelman, Slater and Branch, with Ebert, Davis and Holley all practice squad possibilities. To his credit, Stallworth spent time this spring working as a returner on special teams, ostensibly to try and increase his overall value to the team. But right now, he would appear to face an uphill battle in a fight for a roster spot.

Why has this team had trouble developing young wide receivers? It’€™s more of a big picture question (perhaps best answered another day), but when you’€™re talking about wide receivers, it’€™s worth mentioning once again that the Patriots haven’€™t been able to develop a young wide receiver since the Deion Branch/David Givens combo nearly 10 years ago. Since then, they’€™ve relied on imports like Welker, Moss, Gaffney and Lloyd … and Ochocinco, Galloway and Donald Hayes. The veterans have been good enough to keep the passing game humming — and maybe the Patriots have found something with their younger receivers Ebert, Davis and Holley — but for a team that’€™s enjoyed so much success in player development in so many other areas (they turn JAGs into starting offensive linemen on an annual basis), it’€™s an odd anomaly.

By the numbers, courtesy of Nuggetpalooza: Wes Welker’€™s passes dropped (including postseason): 2008 — 3; 2009 — 13; 2010 — 14; 2011 — 15.

The skinny: As we discussed earlier, while the passing game might not reach 2007 levels, they might not be far off. And while the tight ends have emerged as a potent force for Brady, the receiving corps is deep, smart and filled with the sort of veterans you can build an offense around. (‘€œThis group that I’€™m working with, they’€™re as professional and as good a group as I’€™ve ever been around,’€ Patriots wide receiver coach Chad O’€™Shea said this spring.) Lloyd appears poised for a monster year, while there’€™s no reason to think Welker won’€™t have a typical Welkeresque season. Gaffney is as underrated as they come, and Branch remains a steady and reliable presence for Brady. They may be getting a little older, but there’€™s no reason to think that this group of receivers won’€™t be one of the best in the league statistically when the season is done.

Read More: Brandon Lloyd, Britt Davis, Chad O'Shea, Chad Ochocinco
Three is the magic number: Old friend Jabar Gaffney happy to be back in New England 06.07.12 at 8:18 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Over the last year or so, both Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick waxed nostalgically about what Jabar Gaffney brought to the table when he was in New England between 2006 and 2008: solid, smart and utterly dependable, the Patriots have has enjoyed success in the passing game since he left, but never could replace Gaffney as a No. 3 receiver.

So when the opportunity to pick him up again came around this offseason, the idea of Gaffney back with the Patriots almost made too much sense, to both New England and Gaffney.

‘€œYou go other places and you realize what you had, what you had here with coach Belichick,’€ Gaffney said after Thursday’€™s OTA session in Foxboro. ‘€œHe’€™s a one of a kind coach, and coming back here, he reminded me of that real quick.’€

Gaffney was cut loose by the Redskins earlier this spring — he called it a ‘€œshocker,’€ especially after he finished the 2011 season with career-highs in catches (68) and yards (947) with Washington — but said that when it came to finding a new place to play, there wasn’€™t much of a debate.

‘€œIt’€™s one of the only places I’€™d like to be,’€ Gaffney said. ‘€œI loved it here during my time and when I got cut and [the Patriots] called and Coach Belichick called and told me that we could work it out. This is where I wanted to be.’€

Considering his experience in New England, it’€™s no surprise the 31-year-old was anxious to return. Gaffney caught 85 passes for 1,059 yards and eight touchdowns in three seasons with the Patriots, and provided depth as the No. 3 receiver. While others struggled in that role (Joey Galloway, Chad Ochocinco), Gaffney was able to flourish, and became the best and most consistent pass-catcher the Patriots have had at that spot since Brady assumed the starting quarterback job in 2001.

Back in his familiar No. 10 with the Patriots, he said Thursday he’€™s a different guy than the one who left New England following the 2008 season — both on and off the field.

‘€œ[I’€™ve] grown up a little bit more. Learned a lot more about football — the more you play, the more you learn,’€ he said. ‘€œI’€™ve been able to put what I’€™ve learned in other places and bring it back here and hopefully, it can turn into a lot of success here as well.’€
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Five years later, Donte Stallworth ready for his second stint in New England 05.15.12 at 1:45 pm ET
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FOXBORO — A little older and a little wiser, wide receiver Donte Stallworth is ready for his second act with the Patriots.

The well-traveled Stallworth, who spent the 2007 season in New England before leaving as a free agent, jumped at the opportunity to return to the Patriots, signing a one-year deal as a free agent in March. It was a chance to not only go back to the scene of some of his greatest professional success, but to do so with an increased wisdom, one he confessed he didn’€™t necessarily have in his first go-round with New England.

‘€œI’€™m a lot more mature now than I was then,’€ Stallworth said Tuesday during a break between workouts at Gillette Stadium. ‘€œI feel like I’€™m playing better. I’€™m in a better place mentally, physically and I just felt like at that time I was still trying to mature and grow into a professional athlete. I feel like I’€™m a lot further down the road than I was last time.

‘€œBack then, I was really more relying on my talent,’€ said the 6-foot, 220-pounder. ‘€œNow that I’€™m going into my 10th year, I think I run better routes now and understand different coverages and what teams are trying to do.’€

The 31-year-old Stallworth, who had 46 catches for 697 yards and three touchdowns with the Patriots in 2007, said a large portion of that increased off-field maturity is because of what he went through in 2009 when he was charged with DUI manslaughter following an accident in Florida. He spent time in jail, and was suspended for the duration of the 2009 season.

‘€œThe year I was out and just sitting around and watching my teammates play and watching my friends play, it was not a good feeling,’€ Stallworth said. ‘€œIt’€™s the same, even when you’€™re hurt. Guys never want to miss games. Anytime you miss something that you appreciate in life or that you love in life, if you have an opportunity to get it back, you always have a better appreciate for it next time.’€

Stallworth said that after spending time with the Browns (2008), Ravens (2010) and Redskins (2011), walking back into the New England locker room was an ‘€œinteresting’€ experience.

‘€œIt was a little weird feeling. It was kind of surreal,’€ he said. ‘€œBut honestly, I think it took about a week or so to get adjusted and to really realize that, hey, I really am back; it’€™s not just a dream. It’€™s been good being back and seeing a lot of the same, familiar faces — friendly faces. So it’€™s been good. It’€™s been five years, but not much has changed other than all the restaurants and stuff around here. That’€™s a big difference.’€

Stallworth enters a crowded field at wide receiver — the Patriots have loaded up this offseason at a position they were already pretty well stocked coming off the 2011 season. Stallworth, Jabar Gaffney, Anthony Gonzalez and Brandon Lloyd join a group that includes Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Julian Edelman, Britt Davis, Matthew Slater and Chad Ochocinco.

‘€œIt’€™s going to be good competition; we’€™re all friends, we all have known each other for awhile and respected each other’€™s games, so we’€™re going to make each other better,’€ Stallworth said. ‘€œWe’€™ve been doing that now, with the workouts and really having fun, and the real fun gets to start on Monday when we start practicing. Who knows how it will play out, but I’€™m feeling good; I’€™m feeling healthy.’€

Here are some more highlights of Stallworth’€™s Q&A with the media:
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Read More: Anthony Gonzalez, Brandon Lloyd, Britt Davis, Chad Ochocinco
What the return of Jabar Gaffney means for the Patriots’ passing game 05.02.12 at 11:02 pm ET
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With the news the Patriots are ready to bring wide receiver Jabar Gaffney back into the fold, it gives the New England passing game another familiar face and brings one of the most dependable No. 3 receivers the Patriots have had in nearly 10 years back to Gillette Stadium.

The 31-year-old, who played in New England from 2006 through 2008, caught 85 passes for 1,059 yards and eight touchdowns in three seasons for the Patriots while operating almost exclusively as the No. 3 receiver in the New England passing game. While others struggled in that role, Gaffney was able to flourish, and became the best and most consistent pass-catcher the Patriots have had at that spot since Brady assumed the starting quarterback job in 2001.

It was also clear that even though he departed New England for Denver following the 2008 season, he maintained a great affection for the Patriots and Bill Belichick. In the days leading up to the New England-Washington game this past season, it was clear that Gaffney still had a great affection for Belichick and the Patriots.

‘€œIt was the best,’€ Gaffney said. ‘€œHe pretty much ‘€¦ he gave me a lot of insight on the NFL. A great coach. He makes his players be students of the game. He helped me out a lot. He’€™s the man.

‘€œI’€™ll never forget what I learned there, playing under Belichick. Like I said, he taught me a lot about the NFL and how to survive in the NFL and how to be a great player.’€

‘€œJab could do everything well,’€ recalled quarterback Tom Brady the week before the Patriots met the Redskins earlier this year. ‘€œI think that’€™s his versatility, he’€™s got good size, he’€™s got long arms, he’€™s got good speed, he’€™s got good quickness, he plays every position, he’€™s smart.

‘€œHe’€™s just one of those guys that, from the day we got him here, he was just so reliable and dependable because he knew what to do and he did it well. You gain a lot of trust from the quarterback when all those things match up. I was bummed when he went to Denver, and I was bummed when he went to Washington.’€

Gaffney should still be able to have an impact on the New England passing game. He is coming off the finest year of his career, as he finished the 2011 season with career-highs in catches (68) and yards (947), and tied his career-best with five touchdown receptions, all for a Washington passing game that finished in the middle of the league in most major statistical categories. The fact that he can still get up and down the field at a good rate, his previous knowledge of the offense and his excellent rapport with Brady all figure to make him a favorite to make the final roster.

However, it was already a crowded field before the Patriots made their bid to bring back Gaffney. Now, they have 11 receivers on the roster, not including seventh-round draft pick Jeremy Ebert: Gaffney, Wes Welker (presuming he signs his franchise tender), Brandon Lloyd, Deion Branch, Donte Stallworth, Anthony Gonzalez, Julian Edelman, Chad Ochocinco, Tiquan Underwood, Matthew Slater and Britt Davis. At least one veteran of note won’€™t make it to opening day.

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Could Jabar Gaffney find his way back to the Patriots? 04.18.12 at 1:54 pm ET
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Less than a week after his infamous Twitter rant — one that left him trending worldwide — Redskins wide receiver Jabar Gaffney told Washington’€™s 980 ESPN on Wednesday that the Redskins ‘€œare trying to trade me.’€

If Washington is indeed interested in dealing Gaffney, one possible destination could be the Patriots. The 31-year-old, who played in New England from 2006 through 2008, still has great affection for the Patriots. In the days leading up to the New England-Washington game this past season, Gaffney reminisced fondly about his time with Bill Belichick and the Patriots.

‘€œIt was the best,’€ Gaffney said of his time playing for Belichick. ‘€œHe pretty much … he gave me a lot of insight on the NFL. A great coach. He makes his players be students of the game. He helped me out a lot. He’€™s the man.

‘€œI’€™ll never forget what I learned there, playing under Belichick. Like I said, he taught me a lot about the NFL and how to survive in the NFL and how to be a great player.’€

Those feelings were returned in kind by both Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady.

‘€œOf course, we know Jabar’€™s an excellent route-runner,’€ Belichick said of Gaffney. ‘€œHe’€™s a good receiver. He’€™s a very disciplined, dependable guy. He and (Santana) Moss do a good job for them on the outside. They do a number of different things. They change their passing game around from week to week.

‘€œAnd Jabar, we know, is a real intelligent receiver and very instinctive and I’€™m sure he handles those things well for them, taking routes they haven’€™t really run before and putting them in for that game and then running them in a way that hurts the team they’€™re playing. That’€™s a big part of what they do, also.’€

‘€œJab could do everything well,’€ Brady recalled. ‘€œI think that’€™s his versatility, he’€™s got good size, he’€™s got long arms, he’€™s got good speed, he’€™s got good quickness, he plays every position, he’€™s smart.

‘€œHe’€™s just one of those guys that, from the day we got him here, he was just so reliable and dependable because he knew what to do and he did it well. You gain a lot of trust from the quarterback when all those things match up. I was bummed when he went to Denver, and I was bummed when he went to Washington.’€

New England has already brought in several new faces at wide receiver this offseason, including Brandon Lloyd, Anthony Gonzalez and Donte Stallworth, and wouldn’€™t likely offer the Redskins much in the way of a trade, seeing that Gaffney has gone public with the news that Washington is trying to deal him. (This report indicates that the Redskins could simply cut him loose after the draft.)

However, Gaffney’€™s experience in the Patriots’€™ system, Belichick’€™s good working relationship with Washington coach Mike Shanahan, Gaffney’€™s overall production while with New England (he caught 85 passes for 1,059 yards and eight touchdowns in three seasons) and the fact that he’€™s been the best and most consistent No. 3 wide receiver that Brady has had since he assumed the starter’€™s job in 2001 could at least be enough to cause the Patriots to inquire about his services.

Read More: Anthony Gonzalez, Bill Belichick, Brandon Lloyd, donte stallworth
What the addition of Brandon Lloyd means for the Patriots’ passing game 03.17.12 at 8:58 pm ET
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The addition of wide receiver Brandon Lloyd helps the Patriots’€™ passing game on a number of levels: it provides quarterback Tom Brady with another option outside the numbers, the receiving corps gets slightly younger, and it gives the New England offense something it has been missing since Jabar Gaffney left following the 2008 season ‘€” another pass catcher who is not a tight end who can be counted on for 50 or so receptions a season.

The 30-year-old Lloyd, who has averaged 74 catches a season the last two years, has been connected to the Patriots throughout the free agent process for several reasons, not the least of which included his well-known fondness for Josh McDaniels, the New England offensive coordinator who had worked with Lloyd in Denver and St. Louis.

McDaniels helped turn Lloyd the 6-foot, 188-pound receiver from a statistical JAG who never topped 30 receptions over the first seven seasons of his career into a stud who has averaged 74 catches a season the last two years. In all, with McDaniels as the St. Louis offensive coordinator, Lloyd had 51 catches for 683 yards and five touchdowns last year in 11 games with the Rams. That’€™s on the heels of 77 catches for 1,448 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2010 with Denver, a portion of which happened in McDaniels’€™ final season as head coach of the Broncos. (McDaniels coached 12 games that year in Denver.)

It’€™s not just as a deep threat — Lloyd represents a serious upgrade across the board for the New England passing game. Per the chart that was whipped up by Steve Palazzolo of Pro Football Focus (left), Lloyd’€™s numbers in both the intermediate and deep routes the last two seasons are impressive, and will provide a serious boost to the Patriots’€™ offense.

Last season, the Patriots ran lots of sets with two tight ends and two receivers, and so with Lloyd in the fold, it will be interesting to see how the Patriots approach negotiations with veteran free agent wide receiver Deion Branch, another outside option. In addition, veteran Chad Ochocinco is another wideout who faces an uncertain future now that Lloyd is on the roster.

Regardless of what other personnel moves the club makes going forward, Lloyd projects as one of two outside receivers for the Patriots in 2012, and his ability as a deep threat will only serve to help fellow receivers Branch (if he does return) and Wes Welker (and if he is healthy, newcomer Anthony Gonzalez). Tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez also figure to benefit on short and intermediate routes when it comes to the inclusion of Lloyd.

Read More: 2012 NFL Free Agency, Aaron Hernandez, Anthony Gonzalez, Brandon Lloyd
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