New England Patriots: Team Report

Two weeks ago, Patriots cornerback Tyrone Poole was wondering whether or not he wanted to spend the next five or six months away from his family. He was pondering retirement for the second time in three years. But Poole and several other Patriots newcomers made strong first impressions in the team's preseason opening 26-6 win over the Giants, forcing one to believe that Bill Belichick's offseason defensive treasure hunt will uncover some gold coins.

Linebacker Rosevelt Colvin, safety Rodney Harrison and Poole were the three big veteran free agent additions to the club. All may be known commodities, but are unknowns in Belichick's ever-changing complex defensive schemes. So far, anyway, it seems like all three free agents can make sizable impacts on a defense that needed their combination of youth, speed and the all-important experience usually needed to succeed in Belichick's defense.

Colvin was obviously the prize catch and combines all of those qualities. He has been a factor in the backfield throughout training camp and continued that in the Giants game. While he didn't have any of the team's seven sacks in the opener, he did force a fumble at the line of scrimmage and had a stop for a loss as well. This defense requires him to be more mentally sharp because of all the pre-snap adjustments, and it will take some time before he truly feels comfortable.

"We still have a lot of things to work out," Colvin admitted. "We have a long way to go before we hit full stride as far as what I want to do on the field, but we showed a couple of things. I have to get better rushing the passer. I'll get ample opportunities all season long and I just have to take advantage of every situation I'm involved in whether rushing or covering."

Hitting is Harrison's forte and his emotional play already fits right in with several of his teammates, including fellow safety Lawyer Milloy, linebacker Tedy Bruschi and defensive linemen Bobby Hamilton and Richard Seymour. The 10-year veteran, who has popped some teammates in practice, made a starter-high five tackles in the preseason opener and was impressed by what he saw around him.

"We played at a high tempo and with a lot of speed," Harrison said of his new team's first test.

That speed and tempo looks like it could be the trademark of a versatile defense that wants to disrupt and confuse opposing quarterbacks and those assigned to protect them.

Poole, meanwhile, opened camp well down on the depth chart and eventually admitted that he wasn't even mentally at training camp, but was instead focused on his family back in Atlanta. He finally resolved his personal issues and his play immediately and noticeably picked up. He carried that over to game action with an interception deep in Giants territory and two nifty punt returns where he juked the coverage to make something out of nothing.

"Tyrone showed up on defense and in the kicking game," Belichick said. "He is a good athlete and an experienced player. He has had a good career in this league. I don't think there is any question he can help our football team. That's why we brought him here."

Those three players along with young veteran safety Aric Morris give the Patriots the quality depth that should enable them to sustain any bumps and bruises through the 16-game schedule while upgrading the team where it most needed it -- at the top of the roster.

While Colvin gives the Patriots the edge rusher offenses will have to reckon with, his presence alongside end Richard Seymour will cause fits for pass protectors while also opening up opportunities for Mike Vrabel, Willie McGinest and Tedy Bruschi coming from different places along the front. The Patriots had seven sacks in the preseason opener with seven different players getting a hand in those quarterback takedowns.

The secondary could potentially emerge as the best in recent memory from top to bottom, at least based on two weeks of training camp and a preseason game. Starters Ty Law and Otis Smith have nursed injuries throughout camp and both sat out against the Giants. But the defense didn't seem out of sync or at any major disadvantage with rookie corners Eugene Wilson and Asante Samuel lining up as the starters. Understanding that preseason game planning is limited, it was still encouraging to see the two rookies carry their impressive practice performances onto the game field.

While neither rookie will likely start come Sept. 7 both have adjusted quite well even as the tempo of camp picked with the start of the exhibition slate. Those two youngsters along with Poole give the Patriots five corners who should be able to contribute, giving them as much depth on the outside of the defense as perhaps they have ever had.

To be sure, Samuel and Wilson are unproven rookies who haven't played in a real game yet, but there is little doubt that they can become factors in the defense as the season progresses.

Factor in dime back Antwan Harris and possibly even cornerback Leonard Myers, who also intercepted a pass in the preseason opener, and a solid player is likely to be released by the club this summer.

The certainty in all this is that if the Patriots can stop the run, which they weren't able to do in 2002, Belichick's defense will have some fun wreaking havoc on pass protectors with his versatile front that puts pressure on an offensive line to correctly identify the rushers and with some coverage nuances designed to confuse quarterbacks.

In theory, it means the Patriots should be strong on the game's most critical down -- third -- which goes a long way toward sustained defensive success.

CAMP CALENDAR: The Patriots break camp on Wednesday, Aug. 13 and begin preparing mostly under a normal in-season schedule.

NOTES:

While corners Eugene Wilson and Asante Samuel drew the start with Ty Law and Otis Smith sidelined, it was fourth round pick Dan Klecko that made the most noticeable impact. Playing from the second quarter on, and not against the Giants starters, Klecko spent much of the night in the Giants backfield, picking up 2.5 sacks to go with his team-high seven tackles.

In the grand scheme, that performance doesn't mean much, but what is important for a player like Klecko is to take advantage of opportunities in order to earn more. Klecko did just that while moving around the defensive front. He played inside in a three-point stance and stood up as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Wherever he was, he was difficult to block. Expect him to get a few snaps earlier in the game over the next couple of preseason games.

"Was it just me or did I hear his name out there all the time," linebacker Tedy Bruschi said of Klecko's performance. "He is just a football player if you ask me. He's out there making plays and doing what he can to find a spot on the team. He showed everybody in the stadium he can help us."

Additionally, first round pick Ty Warren notched a sack and a batted pass in the opener, wideout Bethel Johnson hauled in a 42-yard bomb and seventh rounder Ethan Kelley forced a fumble.

--While Jarvis Green started training camp as the No. 1 nose tackle, Rick Lyle has moved inside and past Green on the depth chart despite never playing the nose in his nine-year career.

"I think he had a good performance for the first time out," Belichick said. "Rick has experience in the system and even though he hasn't played on the center for a lot of snaps, the fundamentals and the techniques that he uses are the ones that he's very experienced in and he's good at them."

If Lyle doesn't hold up, Belichick could try Warren at nose tackle and would move Richard Seymour there as a last resort.

--One area Belichick came away from the Giants came unimpressed was his team's execution of the two-minute offense. The Patriots had a first down on their own 41 with 1:38 left in the half, but surrendered a first down sack that derailed the drive.

"It's always nice to have a couple of those situations in the preseason games because it forces you to play situation football and see how your team can execute under pressure," Belichick said.

--The Patriots will continue to utilize some sort of rotation with running backs Antowain Smith and Kevin Faulk, neither of whom impressed in the preseason opener where they combined to carry 11 times for 34 yards including a 13-yard Faulk run on a second-and-17 play. Otherwise, they managed just 21 yard on 10 attempts. Patrick Pass may have earned a better look with his nine carries for 41 yards that came against Giants reserves, but he dropped a handoff on the goal line for the Patriots only turnover.

--Look for center Damien Woody to get some opportunities to shotgun snap in the preseason. That basic center skill has been something Woody has struggled with throughout his career. For the last two seasons, Mike Compton has moved from guard to center in shotgun situations with Woody moving to guard. The former first round pick has worked hard at the skill and will get some opportunities to execute it in the preseason.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "(Patriots special teams coach) Brad Seely was with me my rookie year at Carolina so he knew I had the ability to do it. They recognize the talent. The Lord has blessed me physically, talent-wise and you can't help but notice it." -- Cornerback Tyrone Poole on his punt return ability after averaging 9.5 yards on two impressive returns in the preseason opener when it appeared the coverage should have stopped him immediately.


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