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Special attention needed

Patriots had issues with kicking game

By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / August 12, 2011

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FOXBOROUGH - Something in the Patriots’ kickoff coverage gave Jaguars running back Deji Karim an idea.

After returning two kicks for 42 yards, he took advantage of a mistake on his third that led to an 84-yard return.

Missed tackles on special teams don’t go unnoticed on a team coached by Bill Belichick, special teams standout Tracy White said. The Patriots managed a 47-12 victory against the Jaguars in the exhibition opener and in the process had to work through a few challenges on special teams.

Missed tackles on a kickoff and a botched snap on an extra point will be among the things to correct.

Timing adjustments for the kickoff unit may be one of the biggest challenges, with kicks coming from the 35-yard line this year.

“They have a different rule so you’re up 5 yards, and we’re still working on it,’’ White said.

“We’ll have the timing down pat before the regular season starts.’’

In the second quarter, the kickoff unit charged at Karim during the return. He dodged a few players and sprinted toward the sideline before he was forced out at the 18. The drive resulted in a 29-yard field goal for the Jaguars that cut the Patriots’ lead to 13-9.

“I made the adjustment and so did my blockers and exploded for one,’’ Karim said.

Before the miscue on the kickoff, the Patriots botched an extra-point attempt when Matt Katula’s snap sailed over the hands of holder Zoltan Mesko. The players chased the ball down field until Mesko was able to kick it out of bounds, which resulted in a penalty.

“We had some good plays and some bad ones, and that happens a lot in the preseason,’’ place kicker Stephen Gostkowski said. “It’s something to build on. We don’t want to peak right now. We want to peak against Miami [in the season opener]. I think we’re on the right track. It’s a little weird with the new kickoff rule and the way the guys have to line up. It’s going to be an adjustment period for everybody. We have great special teams guys. Matt is a great snapper. He had one mess-up today, but Matt showed a lot of heart to come back and throw strikes after that.

“I’ve messed up hundreds of times. It’s just real noticeable when it happens to him. He came back and had a perfect day after that, and that shows a lot more as a player and a person to be able to do that.’’

Gostkowski converted field goals of 46 and 43 yards. Chris Koepplin handled the kickoffs as Gostkowski eases back into his routine months after having surgery to repair a torn quadriceps muscle in his kicking leg.

“[With] field goals there is a lot more timing and rhythm behind it,’’ Gostkowski said. “Kicking off, it’s still important to practice, but it’s a lot more important to get a lot more reps field-goal wise.’’

White said he expects the missed tackles that led to the big return won’t get lost in the mix when the team reviews film.

“Not around here,’’ White said. “Special teams is big on this team and it’s a big part of the game with field position and all that. Coach Belichick stresses that we get good field position for offense and defense and that’s what will help us win games.’’

Monique Walker can be reached at mwalker@globe.com.

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