FOXBORO — Take one brief glance at the Patriots starting offense and something looks hazy.
After Donte' Stallworth left for Cleveland as a free agent in the offseason, there seems to be a vacancy in the receiving corps at training camp.
Randy Moss is undoubtedly the No. 1 wideout following a record-setting season in which he grabbed 23 touchdowns in 2007. At the second spot, Wes Welker can call the slot position his home with his fearlessness to run across the middle and his ability to rack up the receptions.
That leaves an opening on the other side of the field opposite Moss and a handful of bodies hoping to fill the void, namely Jabar Gaffney, Chad Jackson and perhaps Kelly Washington.
If any player has earned the right for first crack at the job, its the sure-handed and versatile Gaffney, who brings a little bit of everything to the position.
"Whatever's called upon, I can pretty much do it all. I try to make myself a versatile guy, run inside routes, outside routes, and whenever coach decides to put me in and call my number to just be ready," said Gaffney, who pulled in 36 receptions and five touchdowns in the 2007 regular season.
Although he is not a household name just yet, his versatility is greatly appreciated by the team and perhaps most by his coach.
"Jabar's had a real good camp and a real good offseason," said Bill Belichick. "At training camp he's gotten a few extra reps so far with Wes being out, but he's a very versatile player that last year played every position for us. Whether it was three wide receivers or four wide receivers, he at one point or another played at each one of those spots."
"He's a guy that picks things up quickly, he's versatile, and quarterbacks have a lot of confidence in him," he added.
Besides playing the part of the all-around receiver, the 27-year-old Gaffney has already added clutch performer to his resume. Nothing was more memorable than his goal-line touchdown catch with 44 seconds left on the clock to solidify a 27-24 Patriot win over the Baltimore Ravens last December.
Gaffney hopes that he can be known as the reliable receiver for the Patriots this year.
"I'd like to be known as that. That's a big key and its nice to be called upon and thought of that when needed and that you'll come down with it," said Gaffney. "I try to pride myself with catching every ball that comes my way and I'll keep doing that."
Chad Jackson is another receiver hoping to get more playing time this season, but luck has not been on his side since arriving in New England. The 2006 second-round pick has battled injuries and a crowded depth chart but is ready to bounce back in 2008, starting at training camp.
"I'm comfortable with everything. The offense, the schemes, everything. It's just a tough camp right now and everyone is pushing through it and once you get on page and tart pushing through the hard practices, everything will be fine," said Jackson, who was sidelined all of last season with a knee injury.
The third-year man out of Florida is also spending some of training camp returning kicks, which is just another chance to showcase his talents. However, with Stallworth gone, Jackson feels that this year is an opportunity to move up as a receiver.
"I think its just a year for me to step up and start over again. Once I get out and show everybody what I can do, I'm not going to have any more problems out there," said Jackson.
Other players attempting to move up in the wideout ranks include veterans Sam Aiken and Kelley Washington. Following four years in Cincinnati, 2007 was Washington's first season in New England but most of it was spent solely as a member of special teams.
Possible replacements for Stallworth
Name#year in league#Past Statistics
Jabar Gaffney#7#36 rec., 5 TD in 2007
Chad Jackson#3#injured in 2007, 3 TD in 2006
Kelley Washington#special teams in 2007