Filling the Hole at Linebacker - Part 1

<P>Patriots serious about adding a linebacker to the roster. What does this mean for Bruschi? It may mean the hole in his heart did more damage than first thought. Or it may just mean the Patriots have one eye on the present, and one looking toward the future. </P><P>The first in our three-part series on linebackers for the New England Patriots.</P>

Part 1 - Filling the Hole at Linebacker
What about Bruschi?
By Jon Scott, Patriots Insider

Patriot nation awaits the news on one of the team's most popular players, linebacker, Tedy Bruschi. Will Tedy play again is the question most frequently brought up in conversation with the Pats faithful. The answer remains hidden. No one knows. Well maybe someone does, but he isn't talking.

At a recent speech at Bryant College, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick remarked that Bruschi was doing well. "He comes in (to the stadium) regularly; he's there every day," Belichick said. "It was a serious situation and he's getting better. The comments he's made on it, I wouldn't have anything else to add."

It doesn't exactly give one a warm fuzzy feeling about the chances of seeing number 54 on the field any time soon.

To further Belichick's statements about Bruschi, some local reports have surfaced that indicate Bruschi is visiting the facility to rehab his injury from the stroke. Other rumors persist that Bruschi isn't visiting the facilities at all.

In the middle of all the speculation, Bruschi himself has asked for the media to respect his privacy, and continues to avoid speaking about his health to the media.. The official position by the team is that all news about Tedy will come from the Bruschi family. It is difficult to find fault in that position, especially in light of the kind of impact Bruschi has had as a role model in the community.

Bruschi's last two public appearances may be overanalyzed by the media, yet gave those who were able to see him an idea of how he's doing. Bruschi first appeared with Richard Seymour, Bill Russell, and Bobby Orr at the Boston Red Sox home opener at Fenway. While the cameras followed Bruschi walking carefully to the field, he could be seen letting Red Sox manager Terry Francona know that he's "Good" from reading his lips.

In his statement, Bruschi wanted to let the public know that he appreciate their concern: "I have first-hand knowledge of why the fans of New England are the best in the world. It's because of all the support they've given me - all the letters, all the e-mails and all the flowers that have been sent. I want to tell them the most sincere `thank you' because they've helped me get to where I am today. I am feeling pretty good.''

In another appearance on last week, when President George W. Bush honored the Patriots at the White House, Bruschi was again upbeat, smiling and telling people he's good. President Bush told Bruschi how much he inspired others, with his courage on and off the field, and that people are praying for him.

If Bruschi can't go, and that must be the assumption at this point, the Patriots will need to find a body to fit in the middle of the field ? a field commander who's aware of what's going on and can make the calls necessary to ensure everyone is on the same page. While it may be difficult to picture someone stepping in the way Tedy did, there will be a transition to a new leader at linebacker.

It's not improbable that the player filling Brucshi's shoes is already on the roster. It could be ILB, Ted Johnson, who would fit the role of veteran leader well. Johnson knows the system and knows the calls. He knows where to be and understands what the defense has to do. But Johnson is already penciled in as the right insider linebacker, and the Patriots run a 3-4 defense, which means they still need to fill Bruschi's position on the left inside spot.

Assuming Johnson is assigned Bruschi's leadership role, who then fills the space on the field? Who has the athleticism that Bruschi brought to the position? Is it Tully Banta-Cain, the former University of California Bear who's been a reserve linebacker? Or will it be another backer already on the roster?

We'll tackle that in Part 2 of our series on filling the holes at Linebacker.

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