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Jackson out with torn ACL

Setback for Patriot receiver

INDIANAPOLIS -- After a rookie season in which he battled injuries and was limited to 13 catches, receiver Chad Jackson has another significant hurdle to clear in his second year with the Patriots.

Jackson, the team's highly touted 2006 second-round draft choice, suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the team's AFC Championship game loss to the Colts Jan. 21, according to a league source.

The injury will affect Jackson's preparations for 2007, limiting his ability to develop a rapport with quarterback Tom Brady in offseason drills. No specific timetable for Jackson's return is known.

While players respond differently to injuries, one frame of reference is Denver Broncos receiver Javon Walker, who tore his ACL in September 2005. Walker was estimated to be sidelined 6-12 months and returned for the start of the 2006 season.

Week 1 of the 2007 season is Sept. 9, which means Jackson would have less than eight months to recover in time for the opener.

The 6-foot-1-inch, 215-pound Jackson played primarily special teams in the AFC Championship and had one assisted tackle, on a 17-yard, second-quarter kickoff return by Terrence Wilkins.

Jackson, who turns 22 next month, never got on track after missing the majority of training camp because of a hamstring injury. That cost him valuable time learning the team's playbook. In late November, he also suffered a groin injury.

Jackson, who entered the NFL draft after making 88 catches in his junior year at Florida, finished with 13 catches for 152 yards and three touchdowns in the regular season. He added four rushes for 22 yards, while contributing three punt returns for 76 yards (25.3 avg.) and one kickoff return for 21 yards. He played in a reserve role in two of the team's three playoff games.

After he was inactive for the season opener against the Bills, Jackson showed the type of difference-maker he could be the following week, making two catches for 42 yards in a 24-17 victory over the Jets. His first career catch was an acrobatic 29-yarder along the left sideline, before snaring a 13-yard touchdown late in the second quarter.

Yet Jackson was inactive the following week against the Broncos, before returning against the Bengals and contributing with a 10-yard run on a direct snap reverse that led to a crucial second-quarter touchdown. Jackson made his first (and only) career start the next week against the Dolphins but was held without a catch, before scoring touchdowns in each of the next two games -- a 35-yard bomb against the Bills, and a 10-yard reception vs. the Vikings.

But Jackson, who was part of a group that attempted to fill the void left by Deion Branch, could not build on that momentum. He had seven catches over his final seven games, while missing two contests.

The Patriots currently have receivers Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney, their starters at the end of 2006, under contract for next season. Veteran Troy Brown, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent, could also return, while Kelvin Kight and Bam Childress -- both of whom were on the roster at the end of 2006 and are exclusive rights free agents -- also figure to vie for playing time.

The Patriots released safety Tebucky Jones yesterday. The 32-year-old Jones, a native of New Britain, Conn., signed a two-year contract prior to the 2006 season but injured his leg in the preseason and was placed on injured reserve. He was signed to add depth at safety and bolster special teams units.

Mike Reiss can be reached at mreiss@globe.com.

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