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On the practice field last week Moss lined up split wide left or right in a Patriots receiving corps that is almost completely new. Free agent Donte' Stallworth, formerly of the New Orleans Saints and the Philadelphia Eagles, often lined up on the opposite side of Moss, with hard-nosed former Miami Dolphin Wes Welker, acquired in March for second- and seventh-round picks, in the slot. "That's the underrated acquisition right there," Harrison says of Welker. "He gave us more problems than any player in our division. Quick, smart, fast, never dropped a ball. We couldn't single-cover him."
Says Moss, "I am blessed to be in this offense."
So far, the Patriots are pleased with Moss's mobility and speed, and the receiver says his legs feel fine. On one play during 11-on-11 work, free safety Eugene Wilson lined up inches from Moss on the line, ready to jam him. At the snap Moss twitched right, then left before sprinting right past a flat-footed Wilson and into the open. "I can tell you Randy Moss is still Randy Moss," Wilson said after that practice. "He definitely has not slowed down from the guy he's been."
It's June, of course, and there are no pads and no hitting. And no friction. Moss and the Pats are in full honeymoon mode. The question no one can answer is: Will it last?
The smart money says Moss will be the NFL bargain of '07. He's always performed well when he's been healthy and his team has had a chance to win. He appears motivated to prove that the Oakland years were an aberration. He thrived with the Vikings under Dennis Green, indicating he can coexist with an authority figure like Belichick. The key will be whether Moss gives a full effort on every play, especially those on which he's not the primary receiver. Brady might go to his third or fourth read 10 times in a game, something Daunte Culpepper rarely did in Minnesota and Kerry Collins and Brooks did even less in Oakland. If Moss dogs it, he'll find himself on the wrong side of Belichick--and of Brady, who'll read any teammate the riot act. But if Moss sees the end zone enough, that shouldn't happen. "Touchdowns are paramount with Randy," Carter says. "He definitely does not need to catch 90 balls."
Says Brady, "So far he's fit in as well as you'd ever expect in the locker room and in meetings. It looks like we've got a hardworking group, very unselfish. Sometimes, in this offense, the important thing is to do stuff so other guys can make catches. And the culture of our team has been very good that way. When you put this uniform on, you don't care about catches or stats. All you care about are Super Bowl rings. That's the standard we set."
Now, Moss has a chance to prove he's a shut-up-and-play team guy. Whether he does will be one of the most intriguing story lines of the 2007 season.