Draft: "Nobody Is Going To Fill Adam's Shoes"

What does a team do when it loses its sure-footed kicker after ten seasons? Go on the road to find a replacement that's what. After losing local icon Adam Vinatieri, one of the best-known kickers in NFL history, Patriots special teams coach Brad Seely did just that -- go on the road to find his replacement. The young guns he worked out had nothing but positive things to say about the Patriot's former kicker, a sure sign of the respect he deserves.

Kicking field goals for the New England Patriots in 2006 may be one of the most unenviable jobs in the league. Playing in the cold, windy conditions of Gillette Stadium is demanding enough on its own.

But this season will be even more challenging because of the daunting task of being the follow-up act to Adam Vinatieri. Newly signed veteran Martin Gramatica appears to be the favorite for the position, even after sitting out all of last season.

Gramatica will not be alone, however. The Patriots will likely pick up a younger kicker to compete for the job in training camp. The consensus choice for the best kicker coming out of college is Ohio State's Josh Huston. But New England doesn't figure to be the first team in the league to draft a kicker.

That makes Virginia's Connor Hughes (5'10, 172) and Memphis' Steven Gostkowski (6'0, 200) prime candidates to come into New England this summer to compete with Gramatica to become Vinatieri's replacement.

Both players recognize the uphill battle they would face if they were drafted by the Patriots.

"No matter who comes into that job, the city isn't going to be happy," says Hughes. "The first kick you miss you're going to get booed. But if you can win the job, not many other places have as good a situation. It's a great atmosphere."

The competitive environment in New England shouldn't bother players like Hughes or Gostkowski too much. In each of his four years with the Cavaliers, Hughes played in a bowl game and was 9-for-9 on field goals and 16-for-16 on extra points in those games. Meanwhile, Gostkowski was 9-for-9 in field goal attempts over 40 yards as a senior.

"I've made most of my big kicks in my college career," says Gostkowski. "I feel like I'm at my best when the pressure's on."

While both Hughes and Gostkowski have experience kicking under pressure, neither has much of a track record competing in the harsh, snowy elements that would greet them during the winter months in Foxboro. The college season is usually over by the end of November, and Virginia and Memphis rarely travel too far north.

"We play Cincinnati and Louisville and it gets pretty cold there in November," said Gostkowski. "It's nothing like freezing cold or snow - I've never had any chance to kick in that."

It is a relative long shot that either Hughes or Gostkowski wins the chance to kick in Foxboro this winter. Before sitting out last season, Gramatica was a proven veteran and could very well return to his 2000-2003 form now that he is healthy.

Still, the only sure thing about the New England kicking situation this season is that there won't be anyone surer than Vinatieri with the game on the line.

"(Nobody) is going to fill Adam's shoes," says Hughes. "He's the best clutch kicker hands down. It's a unique situation. There hasn't been many times where a great kicker leaves such a huge position to fill."

Insider premium members can read more about Gostkowksi's ability to kick in cold weather and why he chose football over baseball here: Goskowski Q&A. In addition, Members can find out more about Connor Hughes and why he's considered

Dave Fletcher is a longtime contributor to Patriots Insider. An accomplished writer and sports analyst, you can find more of his articles by searching for "Dave Fletcher" in the archives on PatriotsInsider.com

Insider members can read more about Gostkowksi's ability to kick in cold weather and why he chose football over baseball here: Goskowski Q&A. In addition, Members can find out more about Connor Hughes and why his coach hands out press clippings of the Patriots here: Hughes Q&A. Not a member yet? Take the Free Trial to see what you're missing.

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