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Monday, August 27
Revamped Patriots better recognize

By Glen Farley
Pro Football Weekly

 Bill Belichick
Bill Belichick opted to suspend WR Terry Glenn.
  Head coach:
Bill Belichick (2nd year).
2000 record: 5-11.
AFC East finish: 5th.
2001 preseason: 2-1.
Season opener:
Sept. 9 vs. Bengals.
Schedule | Depth chart
In steady decline since their appearance in Super Bowl XXXI, with consecutive last-place finishes in the AFC East on their résumé, the Patriots went out and set a franchise record for moves during the past offseason.

Eighteen veteran free agents, one more than the previous high of 17 Plan B free agents signed in 1990, were added. Another 10 players were selected in April's NFL draft. Six rookie and first-year free agents were brought to training camp.

Never mind remembering the plays and schemes being installed in this, the second year of the Bill Belichick era.

The real test for the 2001 Patriots may be remembering the names and faces of their teammates.

"When you are not successful, when you have a 5-11 season, then it is obvious that things have to change," quarterback Drew Bledsoe said, "because the status quo is obviously not going to get it done."

Status quo?

Not on this roster.

Terry Glenn, the team's most talented wide receiver, is gone, at least for this season. Cult hero Michael Bishop has been banished.

But whether or not the Mike Comptons, the Larry Izzos and the David Pattens this team signed during the offseason are enough to turn the Patriots' recent evolution into a revolution remains to be seen.

"The guys we signed seem to bring not only some talent, but some attitude, some leadership qualities to the team," Bledsoe said. "Those things are good. Now we have to take those, and it's got to translate into wins on the field."

Quarterbacks: For all the changes, there is this constant: This team will go, in large part, as far as Bledsoe and his right arm can carry it. The offseason additions included a new Bledsoe backup in former Dolphin Damon Huard, summoned to replace John Friesz as the lead clipboard-carrying member of the Patriots' quarterback corps. Second-year pro Tom Brady, being groomed to ultimately serve the role of Bledsoe's backup, has already progressed to the point where Bishop was released.
Grade: B.

Running backs: The Patriots have tried, and failed, to find a workhorse running back since they let Curtis Martin slip away to the Jets in 1998. Robert Edwards, who appeared to be the answer before he blew out his knee playing beach football early in '99, mounted a miraculous comeback just to get into camp but was cut last week. The real competition consists of former Bill Antowain Smith, third-year man Kevin Faulk and second-year pro J.R. Redmond, all of whom have been disappointments to one extent or another to this point in their careers. Former 49er-Brown Marc Edwards, brought in to fill the fullback role previously held by Tony Carter, appears to be an upgrade.
Grade: C-minus.

Receivers: With Glenn, the wayward wide receiver, suspended, first by the league (four games for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy) and then by the team (placed on the reserve/left squad list, he's gone for the season), the Patriots will take the receivers-by-committee approach. No one is about to pretend that the likes of Troy Brown, Bert Emanuel, Charles Johnson, Patten and Torrance Small possess the raw talent of the enigmatic Glenn, but the Patriots are hoping to replace quality with quantity. Tight end isn't all that different. With the second coming of Ben Coates nowhere in sight, the team will hope the likes of the surprising Jermaine Wiggins, the disappointing Rod Rutledge and Johnny McWilliams -- yes, another free-agent pickup during the offseason -- can fill the void.
Grade: C-minus.

The Patriots must protect quarterback Drew Bledsoe. They don't have a big-time runner. Terry Glenn is out for the season, so they lack great receivers. The Patriots have had no tight end to speak of since Ben Coates.

But the franchise has invested $100 million in Bledsoe even if it loses -- and I think the Patriots will lose a lot. Their offensive line remains suspect. But the line needs to protect the franchise -- and that's Bledsoe.

Offensive linemen: After yielding 48 sacks and leading an alleged ground attack that ranked a woeful 26th in the league last year, a year after making Adrian Klemm and Greg Robinson-Randall second- and fourth-round picks, respectively, the Patriots went out and added free agents Compton and Joe Panos and drafted Matt Light and Kenyatta Jones. Nice plan. Too bad Panos retired at the outset of training camp, and Compton and Light went down with nagging, but not season-ending, injuries soon after that. At one point early in camp, none of the five projected starters was on the practice field. Now in his third year in the league, Damien Woody has clearly established himself as the man in the middle, and a healthy Compton should provide a welcome changing of the guard. Beyond that, we offer these unsolicited words of advice: "Look out, Drew!"
Grade: D.

Defensive linemen: See offensive linemen. Questions abound here too. Willie McGinest is clearly the top talent, but the man who once uttered, "you can't make the club in the tub" is soaking in the whirlpool again, this time receiving treatment after undergoing back surgery in June. Blue collar-type Bobby Hamilton led NFL defensive linemen in tackles last season, but he doesn't provide much in the way of a pass rush. Defensive tackle Chad Eaton went home to Seattle as a free agent. He was replaced by first-round draft pick Richard Seymour. Anthony Pleasant is now in his third employment site with Belichick, but at 33, he's near the end of the line. Greg Spires, Riddick Parker and Garrett Johnson are also in the mix here.
Grade: D-plus.

Linebackers: The Patriots opened training camp hoping both Ted Johnson and Andy Katzenmoyer would remain healthy. Now the best they can do is to settle for one out of two. Injuries have handicapped Johnson the past two years, even after undergoing offseason surgery, and Katzenmoyer is out for the season because he needs a second operation to repair a ruptured disc and nerve damage in his neck. That is why the team put the 911 out to yet another pair of Belichick disciples in Bryan Cox and Roman Phifer during camp. Ted Bruschi gives you everything he's got. Chris Slade's play had waned to the point where he was no longer capable of doing that and was replaced by former Steeler Mike Vrabel.
Grade: B-minus.

Defensive backs: In cornerback Ty Law and SS Lawyer Milloy, the Patriots have some Law and order in their secondary. Beyond that ... The old man, Otis Smith, is competing with ex-Dolphin Terrance Shaw on the corner opposite Law and will continue to try to get by with his guile and savvy, while Tebucky Jones, a disappointment as a first-round pick in 1998, will likely start at free safety by default, if nothing else. Terrell Buckley, whose play tends to be trick or treat, was added just prior to the start of training camp.
Grade: C-plus.

Special teams
Concern over veteran Adam Vinatieri's leg strength prompted the Patriots to take a flyer on Brigham Young's Owen Pochman in the seventh round of the draft, and the rookie immediately came in and showed a powerful, if inconsistent, foot. punter Lee Johnson is pushing 40, but, last year his hands - he had problems handling snaps - were more of a concern than his leg. Brown continues to be efficient in the return game. Izzo was signed to lead the cover teams.
Grade: C-plus. Glen Farley covers the Patriots for the Brockton (Mass.) Enterprise.

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