Insiders Look At The WR Roster Battle

Roster battles are part of every training camp around the league. Although Patriots head coach Bill Belichick downplayed the idea of camp battles in a recent press conference, they are a fact of life in the NFL. One position the team has plenty of competition from relative unknowns is at wide receiver. Patriots Insider reviews the pros and cons of each camp hopeful.

FOXBORO, Mass. -- It's no secret to anybody that Tom Brady can throw the football, but the burning question going around at Gillette Stadium is who's going to catch it?

The answer gets a little more complicated with Deion Branch's absence from training camp. With Branch and veteran Troy Brown not at practice yesterday morning, Reche Caldwell was the only veteran receiver to catch passes from Brady during offensive drills.

$14,000 is a lot of cash for every day Joes, but even for an NFL player, $14,000 a day is a boatload of bling. Seeing the cost of holding out, Patriots Insider feels Branch will be back with the team in a few weeks and ready for the start of the season. Barring an ugly war or words between the team and its last Super Bowl MVP, Branch will be in the fold to start the season.

As will be Reche Caldwell, the veteran signed from San Diego this offseason, and Chad Jackson, whom the Patriots traded up in this year's draft to land the speedy wideout from Florida.

Anyone who thinks the Patriots are going to cut Troy Brown should run to the store and pick up more Jack Daniels. Cause the jug is looking empty.

That leaves the hometown team with four solid receivers, but a handful of question marks remain. The Pats will probably take six receivers out of camp, meaning two roster spots are up for grabs.

In competition for those spots are Keron Henry, Kelvin Kight, Rich Musinski, Bam Childress, John Stone, Matt Shelton and Eric Davis.

Patriots Insider offers a look at each combatant and their strengths and weaknesses as the battle for a roster spot continues. Kight is not included because he has only practiced with the team for a few hours as of press time.

KERON HENRY
6-1, 222
UConn class of '05

Why he will make the team: Henry has the size that the rest of the Patriots receivers lack. Signed as a free agent on July 25, Henry has shown good hands in passing drills so far in training camp.

Why he won't make the team: He failed to catch on with Jim Haslet and the woeful Saints last season and spent the year on their practice squad. He was then resigned by San Diego played in NFL Europe and cut again prior to coming to New England. He needs to work on his route running.

"Right now, I'm just trying to learn the offense," Henry said yesterday. "I'm trying to get more patience in my route running … be more deceptive so I can get open."

Did you know?: While at UConn, Henry changed from a quarterback to a receiver and ranks ninth in the schools history with 1,615 yards on 103 catches.

RICH MUSINSKI
5-11, 210
College of William and Mary, Class of '04

Why he will make the team: If the Patriots are looking for someone to catch footballs, Musinski is their man. He caught 224 balls in his four years at William and Mary for more than 4,150 yards and 31 touchdowns. He was also productive in NFL Europe action this year with the Berlin Thunder, catching 23 balls for 277 yards and four scores in his ten games.

Why he won't make the team: This is his second chance to impress Bill Belichick and the Patriots. He spent about a week with the team last year in training camp before being given his walking papers. He spent last season on the practice squad of an Arena Football League team.

Did you know?: His college numbers were all good for school records and he is only one of three players in Division 1-AA history to gain more than 4,000 yards receiving (Jacquay Nunnally and Jerry Rice).

BAM CHILDRESS
5-10, 185
Ohio State, class of '05

Why he will make the team: Childress played well enough last training camp to make the practice squad for Belichick's boys last year. He was activated for the final game of the season against the Dolphins and caught three balls for 32 yards. He also saw time at cornerback against the Fish.

Why he won't make the team: Childress was unable to consistently produce for the Buckeyes in his four years at "The Ohio State University," having started only four games and caught only 33 balls.

"Last year was like a red-shirt season for me," Childress said. "I just want to go out there every day, work hard and have fun."

Did you know?: Childress' cousin is All-Pro cornerback Champ Bailey of the Denver Broncos.

JOHN STONE
5-11, 185
Wake Forest, Class of '03

Why he will make the team: Stone has been the first one of this group to line up with the first receivers, Reche Caldwell, Troy Brown and Chad Jackson during drills. He and Caldwell were the first receivers in team offensive drills yesterday.

Why he won't make the team: Stone averaged one catch per season in his three years with the Oakland Raiders and didn't see the field last year, even when the Raiders were way out of playoff contention.

"It's not guaranteed that the coach is even going to play you," Stone said of his increased playing time while the other receivers were out. "Whenever they call my number I'm going to try to do the best I can to keep my level of play up. I've got a lot of things I can improve on."

Did you know?: Of those three catches with Oakland, one was for 55 yards. He also has one career kick return for a cool 20 yards.

MATT SHELTON
6-0, 175
Notre Dame, Class of '06

Why he will make the team: Shelton proved to be a good target for Brady Quinn last year and played in Charlie Weiss' offensive system, which is very similar to what the Patriots are using today. Big plays are Shelton's specialty: He averaged more than 40 yards per touchdown catch in his career with the Fighting Irish.

Why he won't make the team: Shelton is very generously listed at 6-0, but is probably closer to 5-9. The Patriots have enough short receivers on the team, especially with cornerbacks and safeties getting taller by the day.

"I'm just trying to learn as much as I can form these coaches and players," Shelton said yesterday. "Coach Weis runs his team like an NFL team, so that definitely gave me a little head jump."

Did you know?: Shelton ranks sixth all-time on the long list of Fighting Irish receivers with a 18.6-yard average per reception.

ERIK DAVIS
6-2, 195
Vanderbilt, class of '06

Why he will make the team: Davis has looked good in training camp so far in both individual and team drills, catching almost anything that comes his way. He has good size, which the Patriots desperately need. Proved to be a favorite target for Jay Cutler last season where he caught 46 balls for 619 yards before going down with an injury.

Why he won't make the team: Davis needs to work on his route running if he is going to get separation from NFL cornerback and safeties. He also catches a lot of balls in his body, something that will not fly once the regular season starts.

Did you know?: Davis had his number retired from Ezell-Harding high school, where he scored 33 total touchdowns as a senior.

So who's going to make the squad and be the next Patriot? Only Bill Belichick knows, and that means we have to wait until roster reduction days (8/29, 9/2, 9/3) to find out who will stay and who will go. After all, who saw the release of Lawyer Milloy coming?

 

Jonathan Darling is a special contributor to Patriots Insider. Jonathan's articles can be found regularly here on Patriots Insider by searching for "Jonathan Darling" in the archives.

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