No Passing Fancy

The plan is to throw deep. At least that's the plan, right now. <br><br> One of the New England Patriots glaring weaknesses that team's exploited last year was the vertical passing game. It was basically non-existent. <br><br> But, based on recent events, Offensive Coordinator Charlie Weis seems intent on attack opposing secondary with a long-passing game.

The most important cog in this plan has been Tom Brady's healthy return from 5 1/2 months of rehabilitation after slightly separating the shoulder in the season finale. In the NFL's annual "Quarterback Competition" Brady let loose a cannon that shot the ball 62 yards. He won't need to normally throw that far, but at least teams now know that his arm-strength is back to full.

''The shoulder is an interesting part of the body,'' said Brady. ''It's amazing all of things you do that involve your shoulder besides passing. But it's feeling fine. It's come along well.''

With his full receiving corps in place, Weis will look to use Brady's accuracy and the speed of rookie Bethel Johnson and newly acquired Dedric Ward to compliment Pro Bowl possession receiver Troy Brown and Deion Branch.

And Brady will have to go deep because opposing teams that were unchecked last season by the lack of downfield passing, teed off on Patriot receivers causing injuries to both Brown and Branch. Antowain Smith and the running game were also hurt by the lack of a deep passing game. Defenses weren't spread out nor were they afraid to bring up an extra safety into the box. In fact the Patriots averaged a woeful 5.91 yards per attempt and 9.56 per completion.

-- John Biles

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