Work in Sports
New England Patriots
Defensive change signals new regime under Belichick
The New England Patriots, who went 2-6 in the second half last season to finish 8-8, open their 2000 training camp at Bryant College in Smithfield, R.I., on July 23. Here are a few questions from Sports Illustrated's Dr. Z, followed by CNNSI.com's perspective on some of the issues facing the Patriots this season. SI's season preview will post Aug. 23.
Dr. Z wants to know:
1.) Everyone says Bill Belichick has learned from his mistakes in Cleveland. What mistakes? The fact that he didn't butter up the press?
2.) OK, he didn't quite hit it off with his QBs. Will he and his old Jets crony, offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, have smooth sailing with Drew Bledsoe, who has looked terrific at times, not so terrific at others?
3.) Think the defense will be just fine, but how do you patch up an offense that's full of holes? The wideout corps doesn't offer much after you get past Terry Glenn. The top drafted runner, J.R. Redmond, is coming back from offseason groin surgery. The offensive line features a solid center, Damien Woody, surrounded by a bunch of part-time starters and fringe rejects, and the team's highest draft pick, T Adrian Klemm, tore a knee ligament. Can you open a new can of players?
The Patriots can make the playoffs if ... There is some way to a.) create a running game, b.) pick up a blitz, and c.) keep Drew Bledsoe off his backside by plugging in some offensive linemen who can run- and pass-block like NFL-caliber linemen. It will also help matters if the defense, which is switching to a 3-4 front seven, can help the offense during what may be many times of need.
Pivotal games: Sept. 3 vs. Tampa Bay, Oct. 22 at Indianapolis. It's not a terrible schedule outside of a difficult division, but what a way to start. In Week 1, New England plays host to a trendy Super Bowl pick in the Buccaneers (games against the rival Jets and explosive Vikings follow in the front-loaded schedule). The Week 8 game in Indianapolis -- before New England's bye week -- is the second Patriots-Colts affair in three weeks. The Jets loom between those two meetings.
On the hot seat: There are a number of guys with something to prove in 2000. Ted Johnson; can he go a season without snapping a biceps? Terry Glenn; can he play an entire season and catch, say, 90 passes -- as he did in 1996 under the same offense they'll run in 2000? Tebucky Jones; can he be an NFL cornerback? Antonio Langham; is he the answer at corner if Jones isn't? Lawyer Milloy; will a huge contract extension make him any less than the destructive force that led him to those riches? Drew Bledsoe; how much abuse can he take? But these questions are now the primary responsibility of Bill Belichick. That's why he's on the hot seat.
Up-and-comers: The cream of New England's 2000 draft class will be difficult to gauge, thanks to injuries. Second-rounder Adrian Klemm -- an offensive lineman expected to fight for the right to step in for Bruce Armstrong, whether he returns or not -- could miss up to four months after sustaining a mini-camp injury to (and having surgery on) his right knee. Third-rounder J.R. Redmond (the exciting running back out of Arizona State) had a tendon in his groin operated on and is expected to miss the first exhibition game. But if you're looking for an up-and-comer from an unspectacular position, we submit the name Damien Woody. The center is among only two locks on the offensive line -- the other being Todd Rucci, who may miss part or all of training camp with a knee injury. Woody is coming off a solid first season in front of Drew Bledsoe, and the pair continued working with each other during mini-camps.