INSIDERS: Linebacker A Position Of Change

The Patriots losses of Ted Johnson and Tedy Bruschi affected a gamut of players on the roster including Tully Banta-Cain, Matt Chatham, Chad Brown and Monty Beisel. Now that the team has addressed the losses of two of it's team leaders and captains of defense, this may be the time for these players to shine in a Patriots uniform.

Chad Brown and Monty Beisel were expected to take on significant roles in helping to fill the huge void left by Tedy Bruschi's decision to sit out 2005 while recovering from a stroke. Now the two free agent newcomers will take on an even more significant role after learning of penciled-in starting inside linebacker Ted Johnson's retirement announcement the day before training camp's kickoff.

Johnson, 32, walked away from the game after 10 years because of repeated head traumas that left him feeling uneasy about playing any longer.

"Something didn't sit right with my body the whole offseason," Johnson revealed. "I knew something didn't feel right; I just couldn't figure out what it was. There is evidence of head trauma that I can no longer ignore."

Johnson's retirement caught the Patriots by surprise and leaves them without their two starting linebackers from last season. Beisel and Brown were signed to help fill Bruschi's spot, but Johnson was expected to work in a rotation with them and play strong inside linebacker on early downs.

So when the two-time defending champions opened training camp practice on July 29, Beisel and Brown were working at inside linebacker with the first unit and even some with the second unit as head coach Bill Belichick looks to give them as many reps as he can without wearing them down.

That is something that will have to be managed, especially since Beisel missed the weekend practices because his leg tightened up in the opening session. While Belichick won't admit it publicly, he has to be concerned about the middle of his defense, which is critical in a 3-4 base where the inside linebackers take on uncovered guards.

Johnson was the team's best pure run stopper at linebacker while Bruschi was the group's best playmaker and its energetic and vocal leader. They also knew the intricacies of Belichick's complex defensive schemes. Now two free agent additions are looking to learn the defense and adjust to a new scheme.

Beisel gained his first extended experience at linebacker last season in Kansas City when he started nine games at inside and both outside linebacker spots in the Chiefs 4-3 defense. His learning curve might be too steep for the Patriots comfort, especially given their difficult early schedule that includes road games at Carolina and Pittsburgh followed by a home game against LaDainian Tomlinson's Chargers, three teams that like to pound away at the middle of a defense.

Brown, meanwhile, is 35 and hasn't played a full 16-game season since 2001. Over the last three years of his career, Brown played in only 29 of a possible 48 games and hasn't played in a 3-4 scheme since 1996 when he starred as a pass rusher with 13 sacks for Pittsburgh, a total he's never matched.

Brown also is better suited to play the weak inside linebacker spot in a 3-4 and might find himself working on the strong side as much as the weak. Additionally, Belichick is giving outside linebacker Mike Vrabel reps inside for the first time in his career. Vrabel was a rush end during his early days in Pittsburgh before he converted to outside linebacker, a position at which he's thrived for the Pats over the last four years. But he has no real experience inside taking on guards and if he's forced to play there, it not only isn't ideal for him, but it also weakens the Patriots defense on the edge where Vrabel has been so effective.

Add the losses of defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel and cornerback Ty Law and this early season dilemma may signal a Patriots fall from the mountaintop.

CAMP CALENDAR: Camp closes Aug. 16.

NOTES, QUOTES

--CBs Randall Gay and Asante Samuel, who started Super Bowl XXXIX, opened camp working with the first unit while veterans Tyrone Poole and Starks worked with the second group. Jarvis Green worked with the first unit on the defensive line in Seymour's place while second-year man Guss Scott filled in for Rodney Harrison when the veteran was given a practice session off. Rookie Logan Mankins is working with the ones at left guard while Tom Ashworth and Brandon Gorin have both taken snaps at right tackle with the first group. Dan Klecko is working on the nose with the twos behind projected starter Vince Wilfork.

--WR Troy Brown, who has worked only with the offense so far, made a very alert play that surely was replayed in the film room and recalled memories of a bonehead play made by the Broncos defense against the Colts in a 2003 playoff game. Brown caught a pass from Brady and slid to the turf where safeties James Sanders and Scott failed to touch him down. Brown then jumped up and ran before Scott recovered and ultimately punched the ball out of Brown's hands from behind.

--QB Tom Brady, discussing 42-year-old quarterback Doug Flutie, said, "P.K. Sam was born in 1983 and Doug (Flutie's) first year in the league was 1985. We were laughing about that today in the stretching line."

NOTABLE QUOTE: "I'm anxious and I'm excited to get started. We've had a lot of meetings and already started the process. It's been a build up and hopefully it will build up to a higher level then it did out there (on the first day), certainly in terms of execution and performance. We have a long, long way to go. We're underway. We jumped off the side, we're in the water and we're starting to swim."

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