Team Report: Patriots

The Patriots kicked off their offseason program March 24 and officially began preparations for the 2003 season, and while franchised safety Tebucky Jones is notably absent, the turnout for the so-called voluntary program is outstanding and features newcomers like Rosevelt Colvin and Rodney Harrison, the latter who rarely attends such programs.

"This is the second offseason program I'm participating in," Harrison, who is entering his 10th season, said. "Normally I would stay back home in Chicago or Atlanta and train there. So it's different for me to be up here. In the offseason, I like to train at home and spend more time with the family."

Harrison's presence is important because the offseason program, in New England anyway, has grown beyond simply conditioning, which could easily be done elsewhere. With rosters turning over, camaraderie is important as is learning changes to the system or in the case of Harrison, a totally new system.

"You get a chance to familiarize yourself with the players as well as the coaches," Harrison said. "You get a chance to get in the locker room get to know the players and find out their personalities and mold in because it's not an easy transition. You just try to make it as comfortable as possible and the guys have been great to me."

The Patriots program is very structured to not only ensure the players are getting what they need in terms of running and weightlifting, but also in terms of football. "I'm usually here about three or four hours," quarterback Tom Brady said. "We do the running, the explosive work, the quickness drills and then there is football specific stuff -- throwing to the wideouts, working on routes, working on drops, working on timing. The defensive backs do backpedal drills and it's just stuff you need to incorporate to get you ready for training camp."

As for Brady, he hopes to meet a checklist of goals this offseason despite nursing a sore shoulder back to health. "For a quarterback, it's always about improvement," he said. "A lot of times at this level, you think there are really big things to improve on, but most of it is just technique stuff like working on overall conditioning, getting quicker and stringer in the pocket. I think of baseball and you watch Barry Bonds at 39 or 40 years old and he's playing the best baseball of his life. A lot of quarterbacks are playing into their mid-30s. There is a lot of technique stuff to work on and certain routes I haven't thrown as well as I would've liked.

While Brady resisted specifics, the intermediate out routes tend to give him trouble and he hopes that as he continues to develop physically and works on his mechanics in the offseason, he will be better suited to make every throw, which would enable offensive coordinator Charlie Weis to open up more of the playbook.

"Every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, there's throwing," Brady said. "We'll work on out-routes, hitches, fades, curls and in-cuts for about a half hour."

If the turnout for the voluntary program is any indication, the Patriots seem committed to rekindling the glory of 2001 that was lost during last season's 9-7 campaign. Linebacker Tedy Bruschi was impressed with the crowd of players on hand at 8:30 a.m. on Day One of the program.

"Maybe it's because all the guys showed up early or wanted to get it done, but the 8:30 running group was absolutely huge," Bruschi said. "We were stretched all the way across the field from sideline to sideline. So it's nice to see mostly the whole team here."

Of course, in the past the Patriots were limited by decrepit facilities that included a high school-sized weight room that forced the team to schedule workouts in waves. This is the club's first full offseason at Gillette Stadium, which means more players can work out simultaneously in a modern environment.

"We're ready to get back to work," Bruschi added. "It's time to do the things that will get us through a 16-game season."

But they are doing that without Jones, who told the Boston Globe while he was watching his alma mater, Syracuse, play in the NCAA men's basketball tournament at Boston's Fleet Center that he will not likely report for fear of being injured without officially being under contract.

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