FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Ben Watson knows he could have logged some frequent flyer miles during the offseason, traveling on a USO tour of U.S. military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan during the winter, then visiting China as an ambassador for the New England Patriots in the summer.

“They were all on different airlines, though,” the fourth-year tight end said. “I wish they were all on the same one so they’d all add up.”

In a revamped Patriots passing attack that is expected to log some frequent flyer miles this season, Watson is almost an afterthought because of acquisitions such as Randy Moss, Donte Stallworth and Wes Welker.

It is a stark contrast to last year, when many were pointing to him as a possible go-to guy for quarterback Tom Brady after the defections of wide receivers David Givens and Deion Branch. Watson responded with his best year as a professional, with career highs in receptions (49) and receiving yards (643), finishing second on the team in both categories.

Those numbers, the best posted by a Patriot tight end since Ben Coates, didn’t quite reach the bar set by those who expected Watson to emerge as an elite tight end last season, but the former first-round draft pick said those expectations never became a burden.

“It’s always good to have expectations, but our job is always the same,” Watson said. “We just go out there and do our best and work hard every day and what happens on Sunday is going to happen.”

What could conceivably happen on a lot of Sundays this season is Patriots tight ends may find the middle of the field less crowded with Moss and Stallworth potentially stretching the defense. Will that mean more opportunities for Watson?

“There can be in some games. Just like last year,” he said. “Every team is different that we play. Every team plays their defense differently and leaves different match-ups on different players.”

Does the presence of more weapons in the passing game mean there will be less pressure on Watson this year?

“It sounds like less (pressure) from the fans and media perspective but it’s the same pressure that we have internally,” Watson said. “The coaches still expect you to go out here and make plays and do things right.”

“Ben is skilled player and I think he’s improved a lot this offseason,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. “He’s played well for us and caught the ball well last year. He was a big factor in the passing game.”

“I think he’s on the right track and I like what what he’s doing,” he added. “It’s better than it’s ever been.”

It’s also the first time ever that Watson won’t be lining up with Daniel Graham in New England’s two tight end sets. Graham signed with the Denver Broncos as a free agent, leaving Watson as the senior member of the unit in terms of service time with the team.

Whether that or the off-season additions changes Watson’s role on the team remains to be seen.

“We’ve always been a multiple tight end offense and everybody has a role,” Watson said. We still have a good number of tight ends, but Daniel’s definitely going to be missed.”


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